Low vision is a significant vision impairment usually resulting from serious eye disease or an injury. The vision loss, characterised by either reduced visual acuity (to 20/70 or worse) or reduced field of view, can’t be fully corrected with glasses, contact lenses, medication or surgery.
Low vision can affect both children and young adults but it’s more common among the elderly, as they are at greater risk of vision-robbing eye diseases like glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataract.
What causes low vision and how does it affect eyesight?
Among the leading causes of low vision are heredity, eye injury or brain injury, or eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, or retinitis pigmentosa. Depending on the severity and type of vision impairment, the patient may have useful vision remaining.
Typically the impairment includes a significant reduction in visual acuity to worse than 20/70, hazy, blurred vision, blind spots or significant visual field loss and tunnel vision. Sometimes the extent of vision loss is considered to be legal blindness (20/200 or less visual acuity in the better eye) or almost total blindness.
How does low vision affect daily life?
Significant vision loss can make it challenging to complete common daily tasks including reading, writing, cooking and housework, watching television, driving or even recognising faces.
When low vision is diagnosed, it can come as a shock. Initially, one needs to adjust and learn how to function with impaired vision, but the good news is that there are numerous resources and products available to assist. Because low vision often results in one’s inability to work, function independently, drive and resume normal life, many patients feel isolated and depressed.
Visual Rehabilitation and Visual Aids
Low vision means that a minimal amount of sight remains intact. There are millions of people who suffer from the condition and manage to function with the remaining vision available to them through the use of visual rehabilitation or visual aids.
What are visual aids?
These are devices that help people with low vision function by maximising remaining eyesight. This often involves the use of magnifiers (handheld, mounted or stand-alone), telescopes, computer-based devices and other devices to enlarge the images of objects to make them more visible. Some visual aids reduce glare and enhance contrast which makes it easier to see. Other low vision aids act as guides to help the person focus on non-visual cues, such as sound or feel. Finding the right visual aid is a matter of consulting with a professional and experimenting with what works for you and your daily needs.
How to make life with low vision easier
- Ensure that you have adequate lighting in your home. This may require some trial and error with different lights and voltages to determine what works best for you.
- Use a magnifier. There is a vast selection of magnifiers available, ranging from hand-held to stand magnifiers. Binoculars and spectacle-mounted magnifiers are also an option.
- Your optometrist or low vision specialist can recommend specialised lens tints for certain conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa or cataracts, which enhance vision or reduce light sensitivity.
- Use large print books for reading. Alternatively, try digital recordings or mp3’s.
- Make use of high contrast for writing. Try writing in large letters with a broad black pen on a white piece of paper or board.
- Adding a high-contrast stripe on steps (bright colour on dark staircase, or black stripe on light stairs) can help prevent falls in people with low vision, and may enable them to remain independent in their home.
- Find out by researching what other technology is available to help make your life simpler.
If you or a loved one has low vision, don’t despair. Consult with our low vision optometrists about the best course of action to take to simplify life with low vision.