What is low vision?

Vision impairment, or low vision, is a problem with your eyes that makes it hard to do everyday activities. It can’t be fixed with contact lenses, glasses or other treatments such as medicine or surgery.

Low vision affects each person differently, and it requires an approach that focuses on the patient’s individual problem.

The sooner your vision loss or eye disease is found and treated, the more likely you are to keep your remaining vision. Once vision loss is diagnosed you should have regular comprehensive eye exams by an eye care professional.

What is blindness?

Blindness is the condition of being unable to see because of an injury, a disease or a congenital condition. The common definition of blindness is when your best eye has 20/200 vision or less, with the help of glasses or contact lenses. This means that a person with blindness can’t be more than 20 feet away to see what a person with normal vision can see from 200 feet.

People are also considered to be blind if their visual field is 20 degrees or less, even with the help of glasses or contact lenses. A visual field of 20 degrees means that the blind person has trouble with peripheral (side) vision and has to turn their head to see objects at their side.

Low vision and blindness causes

The leading cause of low vision and blindness in the United States is impairment of vision due to old age. These impairments include macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma. Other eye disorders, eye injuries and birth defects can also cause vision loss.

Symptoms of low vision

If you have low vision, then eyeglasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery might not help. Activities like reading, shopping, cooking, writing and watching TV may be hard to do.

Symptoms of blindness

Many people who are blind have some remaining vision, but the overall visual function is severely affected. People who are legally blind may have blind spots that glasses can’t correct, or their visual field is very narrow or blurry.

Diagnosis of low vision 

Low vision and blindness are determined by an extended vision examination conducted by a physician. This exam helps determine which lenses or low vision devices will help you achieve better vision.

Treatment of low vision

There are a number of devices that can help with low vision. These include:

  • Special glasses that are stronger than typical glasses
  • Magnifiers that are either handheld, mounted on a headband, or on your glasses and can have a built-in light
  • Telescopes that help you see at a distance
  • Electronic technology that enlarge print or convert print to audio

The low vision evaluation will give you the help you need to make the most of your sight.

Meet Sarah Yoest, OD

Sarah Yoest, OD, explains her work as a low-vision optometrist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
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