Would you like to see things through someone else’s eyes? Millions of Americans are affected with low vision. Imagine having low vision and the difficulty performing task like reading, shopping or cooking.
Low vision is more common among seniors. This is because of the connection that the many diseases causing low vision affect seniors. But low vision is not caused solely through the aging process.
Disclaimer: This website is for informational purposes and not for diagnosis. More details.
The good news though is rehab can benefit with ways to keep your independence and make the most of your sight.
February is AMD/Low Vision Awareness Month giving us this time to get the word out. Someone having low vision can still live a full, active life.
What is Low Vision?
Low vision is having a vision problem that makes it difficult to perform your daily activities. This is a condition that can’t be fixed with glasses, contact lenses or regular treatments like taking a prescription or having a surgery.
You may have low vision if your vision is impaired and you can’t see to do things like:
- Recognize someone’s face
- Distinguish colors
- View your television or computer screen clearly
4 Common Types of Low Vision
The type of low vision you have is determined on which condition or disease caused yours. The most common types would be:
- Central vision loss a difficulty viewing objects in the center of your vision.
- Peripheral vision loss a difficulty viewing objects out of the corners of your eyes.
- Night blindness is having difficulty seeing with low light.
- Blurry or hazy vision
What are the Causes of Low Vision?
Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD aka Macular Degeneration) is an eye disorder affecting the macula connected to aging and how it results with damaging sharp and central vision.
We need central vision for viewing objects clearly and for regular daily task like reading and driving. The macula is found in the center of the retina allowing us the ability to see fine details. There are two types of AMD; wet and dry.
- Wet AMD happens when abnormal blood vessels in back of the retina begin growing beneath the macula. Eventually, this leads to blood and fluid leakage. Bleeding, leaking and scarring due to these blood vessels results with damage causing a quick loss of central vision.
An early symptom of wet AMD can be straight lines seem wavy.
2. Dry AMD happens when the macula becomes thin as through the natural aging process. This eventually blurs central vision.
The dry type is more common and occurs in about 70-90% of those with AMD. It develops more slowly compared to the wet type.
As time passes with less of the macula working, central vision is slowly lost in the eye affected.
A common early symptom of dry AMD is drusen.
Drusen are little yellow and white collections beneath the retina. Usually, seen in people of 60 years and older. The appearance of small drusen is normal and this doesn’t lead to vision loss. However, if drusen are large and numerous this increases your chances of developing advanced dry AMD or the wet AMD type.
The CDC gives an estimate of 1.8 million Americans of age 40 and older being affected with AMD. In addition 7.3 million having large drusen are at a higher risk to develop AMD. It is also the leading cause in permanent vision loss with reading and close-up activities seen in seniors.
Cataracts cover the eye’s lens making vision cloudy. They are the leading cause of blindness throughout the world. In the United States it is the leading cause of vision loss. Cataracts can appear no matter what age due to many factors. They can even be present at birth.
The treatment to have them removed is widely available (my mother has had this done). Barriers holding people back from this proper treatment include:
- No health insurance
- The out of pocket cost
- Patient choice
- Not being aware of option
Still the CDC estimates that 20.5 million Americans age 40 and older have either a cataract in one or both eyes. Those having their lens surgically removed are about 6.1 million.
DR involves a progressive damage of the blood vessels of the retina (light sensitive tissue behind the eye needed for good vision). There are four stages in DR development:
1. Mild non-proliferative retinopathy (micro-aneurysms)
2. Moderate non-proliferative retinopathy (blockage in some retinal vessels)
3. Severe non-proliferative retinopathy (more vessels blocked resulting with deprived retina due to blood supply redirected to new blood vessels growing)
4. Proliferative retinopathy (the advanced stage)
DR normally occurs in both eyes.
By managing the disease the risks for DR are less. This is done through controlling your blood sugar, blood pressure and lipid abnormalities. Detecting DR early and starting treatment reduces the risk of vision loss.
But according to the CDC about 50% of people aren’t going for their eye exam or end up being diagnosed too late for treatment to have an effect.
In the United States DR is the leading cause of blindness in adults between ages 20-74. Estimates of 4.1 million Americans are also affected by retinopathy and vision threatening retinopathy.
Glaucoma consists of a group of eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve leading to vision loss and blindness. This happens when the fluid pressure inside the eye slowly increases but it has been discovered that this can also happen with normal eye pressure.
If treatment is started early often there is protection of the eye from serious vision loss.
There are two main types:
- Open-angle glaucoma
- Closed-angle glaucoma
Depending on which type it may progress slowly or suddenly. Glaucoma has been referred to as the “sneak thief of sight”.
Amblyopia (aka lazy eye) the most common cause in children of vision impairment. Amblyopia is a medical term used when the vision of one eye is decreased due to the eye and brain not working with each other correctly.
The eye still looks normal however the brain prefers the other eye so it is not being used like it should be.
Amblyopia is caused by conditions like strabismus where the position of the eye is off balance. This is having more nearsighted, farsighted, or astigmatic of one eye versus the other. Rarely is amblyopia caused by other eye conditions like cataracts.
If it is not completely treated when a child, amblyopia will continue into adulthood. In children and adults around 18-45 it is the most common type of permanent vision impairment of one eye. About 2%-3% of our population is said to be affected with amblyopia.
Strabismus is an imbalance with the eyes positions. This can make the eyes cross (esotropia) or turn out (exotropia). Strabismus is caused because the eyes are not coordinated. So the eyes end up looking in different directions and not focusing together on one point.
Most of the time with children, the cause is not known.
With over half of the cases, the condition occurs at or shortly after birth (congenital strabismus).
Because the two eyes aren’t working together to view an image there is decreased or no depth perception. The brain may begin ignoring communication of the eye leading to permanent vision loss of the eye (a type of amblyopia).
How is Low Vision Tested?
Your Ophthalmologist can check for low vision during your annual dilated eye exam. An eye exam is easy and doesn’t hurt. The exam will test how well you read letters up close, from a distance, viewing spots in your center and from the edges of your vision.
You will be given eye drops to dilate (widen) your pupil. This helps your Ophthalmologist check for eye conditions as well as low vision.
Treating Low Vision
Low vision is unfortunately a permanent thing. Glasses, medicine and surgery can sometimes improve your vision but not cure it. You may be able to do your daily activities easier or prevent your vision from worsening.
Your treatment will take into consideration the eye condition that caused your low vision. Discuss with your doctor any treatment options that may improve your vision or protect the vision you have.
Steps to Make the Most of Remaining Vision
There are ways to make the most of your low vision and continue doing the things that you love.
If you have minor vision loss, you could make small changes in order to help yourself see better.
- Brighter lights can be used at home and work
- Find anti-glare sunglasses to wear
- Magnifying lens/glass can be used for reading, crafts and other activities that are close
For vision loss that interferes with your daily activities talk to your doctor about vision rehabilitation. A specialist will help you incorporate ways to adapt to your vision loss. This can include:
- Guidance with using a magnifying device for reading
- How to arrange your home to get around easily
- Providing resources to learn about your vision loss and coping
Since it is hard to describe what low vision is like, the National Eye Institute has developed an app to give you an idea. If you are interested it is called “See what I See” (VP).
Going for your vision exam is important for your overall wellbeing. Steps can be taken to help with low vision.
Do you have a vision problem?
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Header photo senior woman using magnifying lens to read by Anna Shvets from Pexels