What is Low Vision?

Low vision is when you have lost a certain amount of eyesight. With low vision it is hard or impossible to do many of your normal tasks.


Sometimes low vision can be improved with medication, surgery, eyeglasses or other options. If your low vision cannot be improved, there are ways to adapt. You can learn new ways to make the most of the vision you do have.

The experience of vision loss


It is always a shock to learn that your vision loss cannot regained. It is important to recognize the anger and frustration you may feel. Get help working through these feelings. Apply the strategies of vision rehabilitation to stay active, which includes using low vision aids and low vision rehabilitation.


If you have low vision, taking care of yourself and staying active will help you avoid depression. Depression can appear as fatigue or lack of interest. If you are depressed, seek treatment and counseling. A low vision support group can help you recognize that your value to yourself and others does not depend on your vision. You are worth the effort it takes to make the most of the vision you have.


Causes of Low Vision

Certain eye diseases can cause low vision. These include:

• Macular degeneration

• Glaucoma

• Diabetic retinopathy

• Retinitis pigmentosa

These conditions can occur at any age but are more common in older people. However, normal aging of the eye does not lead to low vision.

Eye injuriescan also cause low vision.

Low vision may also result from eye cancer, albinism or a brain injury. If you have these disorders or are at risk for them, you are also at greater risk for low vision.


Low Vision Symptoms

With low vision, you cannot see well enough to do everyday tasks — even with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery.

There are many signs of vision loss, including finding it difficult or impossible to:

• Read

• Write

• Shop

• Watch television

• Drive a car

• Recognize faces

It may be difficult to set dials or manage glare.

With low vision, you might have trouble picking out and matching the color of your clothes. The lights may seem dimmer than they used to, making work or household chores more difficult.

The most common types of low vision include:

• Loss of central vision

• Loss of peripheral (side) vision

• Night blindness

• Blurred vision

• Hazy vision

Patterns of vision and vision loss

• Central vision

This is the detailed vision we use when we look directly at something. Macular degeneration (AMD) affects central vision. Diabetic retinopathy can affect central or peripheral vision.

• Peripheral vision

This is the less detailed vision we use to see everything around the edges. Glaucoma affects peripheral vision first. Strokes can affect one side of the peripheral vision.

• Contrast sensitivity

This is the ability to distinguish between objects of similar tones like milk in a white cup or to distinguish facial features. All eye problems can decrease contrast sensitivity.

• Depth perception

This is the ability to judge the position of objects. New vision loss in one eye can affect depth perception, such as the height of a step.

• Visual processing

The lens in our eye focuses light rays onto our retina. The retina converts these light rays into signals that are sent through the optic nerve to our brain, where they are interpreted as the images we see. A problem with any of these processes affects our vision in various ways.


The phantom visions of Charles Bonnet syndrome


About 20% – 30% of people with vision loss see lifelike images they know are not real. This is called Charles Bonnet syndrome (CBS). This syndrome is not a loss of mental capacity, but just part of vision loss for some. It is helpful to think of these images as the brain's attempt to replace missing images from the damaged eye.


If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with low vision, talk with your eye care professional about vision rehabilitation.


Source: American Academy of Ophthalmology

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