Ask the Eye Docs: What is Low Vision?
For more than a decade, the dedicated specialists at Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons have provided patients from all across Georgia with an array of eye care services, ranging from routine vision exams for prescription eyewear and comprehensive medical eye exams to advanced eye disease treatment and even LASIK vision correction surgery. In the latest installment of our ongoing blog feature, board-certified ophthalmologist Dr. William Segal and licensed consultative optometrist Dr. Marc Lay will answer some of the most commonly asked questions about eyesight and vision care.
QUESTION: I act as a part-time caregiver for an elderly relative, and I recently learned that their doctor mentioned that they might have something called “low vision.” I know that my relative has worn glasses for many years, but I am unsure whether this new condition is something that I should be concerned about? Can you give me some insight about what this means, exactly? Basically, what is “low vision” and is it similar to other conditions like “visual impairment” and “legal blindness”?
ANSWER: There are actually many different terms, both medical and legal, that are used to describe the different levels of visual impairment, but because there are so many issues that affect the eyes, and because every patient is unique, those definitions can sometimes be confusing. Technically, low vision is often defined as a condition caused by eye disease in which visual acuity is 20/70 or poorer in the better-seeing eye and cannot be corrected or improved with regular eyeglasses. However, the American Academy of Ophthalmology uses the term low vision to describe any case of permanently reduced vision that cannot be corrected with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery. In this sense, the definition can effectively mean different things for different patients because it is simply recognizing that the patient’s vision loss has started to interfere with their daily activities. Low vision is different from visual impairment or legal blindness. Specifically, visual impairment is a general term that describes a wide range of visual function, from low vision through total blindness. Legal blindness, on the other hand, has a specific legal definition that is used by the United States government to determine eligibility for vocational training, rehabilitation, schooling, disability benefits, low vision devices, and tax exemption programs.
Although many of the conditions that commonly affect the eye as it gets older, like presbyopia or age-related macular degeneration, may contribute to low vision, it is important to note that normal aging of the eye does not necessarily lead to low vision. Loss of vision can be the result of many different conditions, and a diagnosis of low vision could potentially be an indication of a more serious issue, like cataracts or glaucoma, may be present. If low vision is making it more difficult for your relative to perform her daily activities, a comprehensive medical eye exam will allow us to accurately diagnose the problem and either formulate an effective treatment plan or help develop strategies to help them lead as normal and independent a life as possible.
The realization that one’s eyesight might be failing can be frightening, but in many cases catching a disease early is the best way to slow or even halt its progression and prevent further vision loss. If you have any concerns about your vision, or about the vision of someone you love, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons to make an appointment with Dr. William Segal or Dr. Marc Lay to schedule the right eye exam for their needs. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more information on how to keep your vision clear and healthy.