Many of you reading this may have some form of visual impairment that requires vision correction like glasses or contacts. But do you have low vision? According to the National Eye Institute, 3 million Americans over 40 years old have low vision, and this number is expected to increase to 5 million over the next ten years.
The Facts About Low Vision
But what is low vision, and how is it different from other vision impairments? It's when someone has difficulty seeing despite glasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery. This level of vision makes everyday tasks difficult to do, and it comprises multiple types of visual impairment:
Loss of best-corrected visual acuity (BVCA): this is the best vision your eye can achieve with correction, 20/20 being the best. If it's lower than 20/70 in your better eye, you have low vision.
Significant vision field loss: including blind spots and tunnel vision, or lack of peripheral vision.
Legal blindness: visual acuity of 20/200 or worse in your better eye.
Causes of Low Vision
The eye is a complex organ, and the potential conditions that could occur to damage it are numerous. They include:
Cataracts: clouding of the eye's lens that can cause hazy, blurred vision.
Age-related macular degeneration: the deterioration of the part of the eye responsible for visual acuity. Causes blurred or obscured central vision.
Diabetic retinopathy: damage to the retina caused by diabetes, leading to blind spots, blurriness, and visual distortions.
Glaucoma: poor peripheral vision caused by optic nerve damage.
Retinitis pigmentosa: an inherited condition that causes retina degeneration, which reduces peripheral and low-light vision.
- Eye injuries.
Common signs of these diseases and conditions are blurred vision, blind spots, loss of peripheral vision, light sensitivity, and reduced contrast.
Complications of Low Vision
Low vision can cause numerous problems with daily functioning, and particularly with financial security:
The employment rate for visually disabled Americans of working age is around 37 percent, with full-time/full year employment at 24 percent.
The median annual income for households with a working-age, visually disabled person is about $33,000, versus $59,000 for households with no working-age, disabled people.
The individual poverty rate of visually disabled people is 29.5 versus about 12 percent for those without a disability.
Beyond employment, low vision can have a huge impact on quality of life. It impairs driving ability, which causes accidents and reduces employment opportunities. It increases rates of depression and can reduce sociability, and it can impede many daily activities that we take for granted.
Treating Low Vision
If you're showing symptoms of low vision, you should immediately see an eye care professional for a comprehensive exam. This may also involve a referral to a low vision specialist, who will help you find ways to adapt your lifestyle to your vision needs. They may prescribe many different types of low vision aids or other assistive devices, such as:
- Lighted handheld magnifiers.
- Digital desktop magnifiers.
- Bioptic telescopes.
- Computer magnification and text-to-speech software.
- Eyewear with tinted UV filters: heightens light contrast and reduces sensitivity.
- Non-optical devices: large print books, audio recordings, signature guides, and special light fixtures.