Millions of people struggle with low vision and vision loss. But millions of people live successfully with reduced vision, too. Since February is Low Vision Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to learn more about what low vision means, what causes it, and what those suffering from low vision can do to maintain a high quality of life.
If you or someone you know are experiencing vision loss, VIA may be able to help. We aren’t medical doctors, but rehabilitation experts—we guide patients through vision loss to help give them back their independence and confidence, ultimately helping them to enjoy a high quality of life despite vision loss.
If you’re experiencing visual impairment or know someone who is, always contact your eye care provider or ophthalmologist. When you or a loved one needs help managing vision loss in daily life, get in touch with VIA’s vision rehabilitation professionals.
What exactly is low vision? What causes it? And perhaps most importantly, what can you or your loved one do to live a normal life even when faced with low vision?
What Is Low Vision?
Low vision is defined as having impaired vision that can’t be corrected by glasses, contact lenses, surgery, or medication. It’s important to note that low vision is not complete blindness—some sight remains when a person has low vision. The truth is that low vision is a spectrum consisting of varying degrees of vision loss and visual acuity.
The American Optometric Association groups low vision into two categories:
- Partially sighted: the person has visual acuity between 20/70 and 20/200 when using prescription lenses/visual correction
- Legally blind: the person has visual acuity no better than 20/200 when using prescription lenses/visual correction, and/or a restricted field of vision less than 20 degrees wide
Some of the most common types of low vision are:
- Night blindness: A person with night blindness has difficulty seeing in poorly lit areas, as well as outdoors at night.
- Blurred vision: Objects close to and far away from a person with blurred vision will appear out of focus.
- Loss of central vision: This means having a blind spot in the center of your vision.
- Loss of peripheral vision: This means losing vision to the sides, above, and below eye level while central vision remains intact.
- Hazy vision: Slightly different than blurred vision, hazy vision means the entire field of vision seems to be covered in a film or glare.
Common Causes of Low Vision
While it’s possible for conditions like albinism, cancer of the eye, or a brain injury to cause low vision, these causes aren’t common. Usually, low vision results from disorders affecting the eye or a disorder that affects the entire body and produces symptoms in the eye, low vision being one of them.
Three of the most common causes of low vision include age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetes.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs because of damage to the macula—the part of the retina that absorbs light—which controls sharp central vision. AMD doesn’t cause complete blindness, but it’s one of the leading causes of central vision loss and can make it much more difficult to do daily tasks like reading, driving, cooking, and much more.
Your risk of AMD increases as you age. People 55 and older are at the highest risk, and the risk is even higher for people who have a family history of macular degeneration and for those who smoke. Certain types of AMD can be treated with medications and laser treatments, but most cases are dealt with through proper management and vision rehabilitation to help people with macular degeneration live a normal, happy life.
Glaucoma occurs when pressure builds in the eyes and damages the optic nerve, which is responsible for sending images from your eyes to your brain. Most often, this results in loss of peripheral vision, blind spots, blurry or cloudy vision, and tunnel vision. Glaucoma can be caused by a variety of things, including blocked blood vessels in the eyes, infections, and eye injuries. However, in many cases a cause isn’t identified at all, and the disease is thought to be hereditary for many patients.
Glaucoma and the vision loss it causes cannot be reversed. But certain treatments including prescription eye drops, oral medication, and surgery can help slow or even halt the progress of the disease. Many patients with glaucoma benefit from a combination of eye drops/medication and vision loss rehabilitation like that offered by VIA.
There are a variety of diabetic eye conditions—diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema, for example—that cause low vision. And patients with diabetes are also at a greater risk for common eye issues like glaucoma or cataracts. To put it simply, diabetes is one of the leading causes of vision loss in adults.
Diabetic patients will need to control their blood sugar levels through a combination of insulin injections, a nutritious diet, and a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise. Specific treatments for eye conditions, such as those described above, may also be helpful. And plenty of diabetic patients with visual impairment benefit from vision loss rehabilitation as well.
Maintaining a Good Quality of Life With Low Vision
Individuals with low vision, even if they’re considered legally blind and have near-total vision loss, can still maintain a very high quality of life. It’s a matter of managing any symptoms and adjusting one’s lifestyle to deal with low vision or visual impairment.
The exact procedure for managing a case of low vision will be determined by a patient’s eye care professional or ophthalmologist, as well as vision loss rehabilitation experts like those at VIA. Generally speaking, there are optical aides and non-optical aides that patients can use to manage their low vision.
Optical aides help those with low vision magnify or sharpen objects or print in the field of vision. Examples include:
- Magnifying glasses
- Hand magnifiers
- Telescopic glasses
- Light-filtering lenses
- Reading prisms
- Closed-circuit televisions
Non-optical aides are used to make life easier for those dealing with low vision. Examples include:
- Large-print reading materials
- Screen reading software
- High-contrast clocks and watches with enlarged numerals
- Talking clocks, watches, pill bottles, and other devices
- Text-reading software
- Writing guides
- High-intensity table or floor lamps
For most people living with low vision, a combination of optical and non-optical aides help them to live a normal life and maintain a level of independence they’re used to. In addition to aides, people with low vision can benefit from the expertise of vision loss rehabilitation experts.
Vision Loss Rehabilitation: Trust the Experts at VIA
It can be devastating to experience vision loss or watch as a loved one goes through it. But it’s important to remember that many people with vision loss can benefit from vision loss rehabilitation services and live successful, productive lives despite their diagnosis. VIA helps visually impaired individuals live their lives to the fullest—we offer vision loss rehabilitation, tools, education, job training, and other support to help individuals with vision loss live and work independently.
VIA provides comprehensive vision loss rehab services for all ages. Our goal is to help you live and work on your terms, independently, maximizing your abilities through vision rehabilitation services like:
- Vision rehabilitation therapy – We’ll help you restore your confidence and independence by helping you learn adaptive techniques and tools to deal with vision loss.
- Orientation and mobility – With tools and techniques designed for the visually impaired, you’ll be able to regain the ability to know where you are and how to get where you’re going.
- Social casework services – We’ll help you adjust to vision loss through counseling, community resources, recreational opportunities, and more.
Get in touch with a member of VIA’s Vision Rehabilitation Services team to learn more.
VIA’s Low Vision Clinic in Buffalo, NY
The goal of VIA’s Low Vision Clinic is to evaluate an individual’s low vision and determine which of our low vision rehabilitation services will best help you to achieve your goals. Our certified low vision therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation of your eyesight and discuss your diagnosis as well as your goals and desires moving forward. From there, we can recommend the right rehabilitation services for your needs and offer low vision accessibility tips to make daily life easier.
If you’re experiencing vision loss or impairment, it’s important to contact your physician or ophthalmologist for a consultation. After speaking with your doctor, VIA’s certified low vision therapist can make additional recommendations to help you live life to the fullest after your diagnosis of low or impaired vision.
Vision Loss Rehabilitation in Western New York
VIA offers comprehensive vision loss rehabilitation services to people of all ages experiencing vision loss or visual impairment. Our mission is to maximize patients’ functional vision to improve their independence, safety, and quality of life. We’ve been providing the Western New York community with vision loss rehabilitation services for more than 100 years.
If you’re dealing with vision loss or have a friend, family member, or loved one who is, contact a member of the VIA team today.