Low Vision… Can You See It?

Posted on February 20, 2017 by Gerry

“What exactly is low vision?” you may ask.
“Low vision” is a term commonly used to mean partial sight, or sight that isn’t fully correctable with surgery, medications, contact lenses, or glasses. In the United States, the most common causes of low vision are age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy. People can also be born with conditions such as albinism or optic nerve damage that can result in low vision. Low vision can have an impact on people of all ages.

Magnification devices, electronic devices, computer-access software, and other access and mainstream technologies are used to help people with low vision maximize their remaining vision or learn alternative ways to do things, such as using their sense of touch or their sense of hearing.  

In observance of Low Vision Awareness Month, I encourage everyone to have a complete eye exam from a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist. Getting a yearly exam increases the chances of early detection and diagnosis of conditions that may lead to vision loss. If you or someone you know has experienced significant vision loss, I encourage you to have a low vision examination.

A low vision examination is quite different from the basic examination routinely performed by primary care optometrists and ophthalmologists. A low vision examination includes a review of your visual and medical history, and places an emphasis on the vision needed to read, cook, work, study, travel, and perform and enjoy other common activities. The goals of a low vision exam include assessing the functional needs, capabilities, and limitations of your vision, assessing ocular and systemic diseases, and evaluating and prescribing low vision therapies. Education and counseling of family and other care providers; providing an understanding of your visual functioning to aid educators, vocational counselors, employers and caregivers; directing further evaluations and treatments by other vision rehabilitation professionals; and making appropriate referrals for medical intervention are all a part of a low vision evaluation.

The low vision examination takes much longer than a typical eye exam, but the information gained can be invaluable. No matter what your visual acuity, it is important to understand any diagnosis you may receive and to keep your eyes as healthy as you possibly can.

Would it be beneficial to have some way of identifying to others that you are low vision? Can you always determine if someone is low vision just by looking at them? In cases of emergency when you can not speak for yourself it may be beneficial to be able to inform medical personnel that you do have vision issues. To share a personal story I am visually impaired and when I was young I had respiratory problems that meant a few trips to the emergency room. The head nurse got to know me and would often have the student nurses care for me. She would also ask them to figure out my other condition that I had through interacting with me. They could not tell that I was visually impaired. So it goes to show that you can not always tell if someone has low vision. Consider as well that one way of checking a person’s responsiveness in an emergency may be to shine light in their eyes to see how the pupils react. If you have a vision impairment, this test may not be helpful–the only way a doctor would know that right away if you cannot speak and someone who knows you well is not there, is to read a medical ID that you have low vision.




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