Low vision is a vision impairment that may sometimes reduce the patients’ functioning dramatically. It cannot be 100% fixed with therapy, (prescription), contact lenses or (eyeglasses). Low vision currently affects about 6 and a half million Americans who are aged 65 and up. A person with low vision does not have enough of a problem to require glasses or contacts, and can still make use of the vision he or she has. A low vision problem is enough to be bothersome and dangerous, but not enough to need glasses or surgery for. The symptoms of low vision usually appear in one or more ways, as follows:
- A loss of peripheral vision. This is usually caused by a stroke or glaucoma.
- A loss of the center vision. Macular degeneration can cause this.
- Blurred vision. This can be caused from a cataract, a scar on the cornea, or those with diabetic retinopathy.
A person who suffers from low vision will have problems reading or recognizing things that are in the distance, such as a store sign. They may have problems telling the difference of colors, especially the greenish-blue hues. They may also have problems with seeing up close, such as when they are trying to read or write. While these symptoms may not always point towards low vision, it is important to have a full eye examination if any of them are noticed. An experienced optometrist can differentiate between normal changes of the eye, and those that can be caused by certain eye diseases.
An examination for a patient who is believed to have low vision will be different than a normal eye exam. There are a few tests an eye doctor may give to see if low vision is the issue. Refraction will be performed to make a complete assessment of the vision, and to see what type of prescription, if any, could help. This may be done through a telescope, or a trial lens. The peripheral vision will be tested, as loss of this is a main symptom of low vision. Ocular motility will also be administered, which judges how well the eyes can move. A low vision test is also typically longer and more intense than a regular eye exam.
Since low vision cannot usually be corrected with eyeglasses or contacts, there are other devices that can help. Occupational therapy is a choice which can help a patient, by changing the home, car and office around so that the patient can be more independent and function better. This is known as an environmental modification, and may be achieved over just a couple of weeks or a few months. There are many magnifiers that are specially designed to help men and women who have low vision problems. Other devices, like special telephones, talking wrist-watches, and larger-print books can also help a person deal with their condition.
Annual eye exams are extremely important, even more so in those who are 65 years and older. Any sign of low vision should be discussed with a doctor or optometrist as soon as possible, so that help and treatment can be started right away.