Low Vision

Low vision is a term commonly used to mean visually impaired sight, or sight that cannot be corrected with contact lenses or standard glasses. A person with low vision is severely limited with respect to visual acuity and/or loss of visual field. The person with low vision may still be able to function, work, and enjoy life, but the visual loss is present to a degree to which it interferes with the ability to perform a varying range of daily activities.

What are the Symptoms of Low Vision?

The signs and symptoms of low vision include the following:

  • Difficulty recognizing a familiar face or watching television
  • Difficulty reading, with print appearing broken, distorted, or incomplete
  • Difficulty seeing objects and potential hazards such as steps, curbs, walls, uneven surfaces, and furniture

What Causes Low Vision?

Low vision can be caused by many different eye diseases or injuries. The most common causes include:

  • Macular Degeneration, which affects central vision and ability to read and see faces. Straight lines appear wavy, and dark or empty spots block the center of vision.
  • Glaucoma, which is the loss of peripheral (side) vision and difficulty seeing at night
  • Cataracts, which causes vision to be hazy
  • Diabetic Retinopathy, which causes distorted or blurred vision

What Resources are Available for Persons with Low Vision?

An ophthalmologist or other eye care professional specializing in low vision can evaluate your sight and prescribe optical devices for maximizing remaining vision. Devices such as magnifiers and tinted lenses may help you take full advantage of the sight you have. Non-optical devices such as large-print clocks, telephones, and remote controls, as well as signature and writing guides are also popular. Computers that can scan a book and read it back or voice the wording on the screen are of major help. New and improved devices are being developed.

If vision loss cannot be corrected by medical or surgical interventions, vision rehabilitation may help. These services are provided by a multidisciplinary team that may include specially trained ophthalmologists, optometrists, social workers, nurses, occupational therapists, career counselors, and orientation and mobility specialists.

The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary Institute for Continuing Medical Education has created a Compendium of Low Vision Resources for patients and professionals.