What is low vision?

In this blog article, we’ve asked our guest writer, Gary Asano, OD, Chair of the California Optometric Association’s Low Vision Rehabilitation Section to address common concerns of patients suffering from disease-related debilitating vision.

What is Low Vision?

When you have reduced vision as a result of an eye disease, you can be classified as having low vision.  Those with low vision usually complain of difficulty reading small text, recognizing faces or reading street signs.  An optometrist with a sub-specialty in low vision seeks to maximize the best functioning area of the eye.  This can be done with the use of low vision aids and devices.

MacDegI have just been treated for “wet” macular degeneration by a retinal specialist who said that my vision has now improved from the original 20/200 to 20/60. But my new pair of glasses isn’t allowing me to see as clearly as I would like. Why can’t my vision be corrected to 20/20 with regular glasses? Was my eye treatment/surgery not successful?

When the retina (the part of the eye that receives visual information) is distorted as a result of an eye disease, treatment can improve your vision, but will not restore it to normal. Therefore, you may notice that straight lines may still appear wavy, or that you have dark spots in your vision. Glasses can improve the vision, but will not be able to resolve any distortion or dimming of vision you may already be experiencing. This is where a consultation with a low vision optometrist is helpful to determine what adaptations and aids besides glasses will help you to function better.

“But I have never heard of a low vision optometrist. What can you do to help me with how I see every day?”

dangerous roadsA visit with a low vision optometrist will begin with a complete history of your visual problems and a discussion of your visual goals. For example, your goal may be to read price tags or to view photos of family members. From there, your doctor will determine the low vision aids most appropriate for you to accomplish these goals. The aids can range from standard spectacles to magnifiers and telescopes. Some patients will function better with a particular tint in their lenses to reduce debilitating glare while other patients would benefit simply from increased lighting or working with an occupational therapist to make changes to compensate for visual deficits. Low vision specialists can utilize telescopes and even electronic and computerized magnification aids to help you get through your day. The number of these devices is growing and the timing could not be better with more and more people needing help.

Counseling is also often needed for patients who are grieving and cannot be easily helped at first. We always recommend that you bring along a supportive friend or family member to the evaluation so that we can address all areas of difficulty.

There are few low vision specialists to meet the demand –  it has been estimated that there are only 150 experts in low vision in the entire U.S.  Fortunately, the California Optometric Association Low Vision Rehabilitation Section has 49 optometrists who have a special interest in this field and are ready and willing to help you!

~Gary Asano, OD
Low Vision Specialist