Vision changes without warning, even in a healthy eye. The vision community observes Low Vision Awareness Month in February, and we want to take this opportunity to remind everyone about the importance of routine eye exams from a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist.
According to the National Eye Institute, low vision cannot be fixed with glasses, contact lenses or with medicine or surgery. Low vision mostly occurs in people 65 years old and older, but it affects anyone. It’s important to learn about low vision awareness because low vision cannot be reversed but it can be managed.
Low vision occurs more readily as the eye ages. According to Cleveland Clinic findings, “one in six adults over age 45 has low vision and one in four adults over age 75 has low vision.” Many common eye conditions cause low vision, including:
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) affects the retina, the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye, where images are focused. The macula, the area on the retina responsible for sharp central vision, deteriorates, causing blurred vision. This can cause difficulty reading and for some, a blurry or blind spot in the central area of vision. In the non-exudative "dry" form of AMD–the most common form–vision loss usually progresses slowly. The exudative "wet" form causes rapid and severe vision loss. Abnormal blood vessels develop under the macula and leak fluid and blood. Both exudative and non-exudative forms of macular degeneration are age-related. They are the leading cause of blindness for people over 50.
A cataract is a cloudy or opaque area in the normally clear lens of the eye. A cataract’s size and location determine the effect on vision. Most cataracts develop for people over age of 55 but they occasionally occur in infants and young children. The lens is located inside the eye behind the iris, the colored part of the eye. Normally, the lens focuses light on the retina, which sends the image through the optic nerve to the brain. However, if the lens is clouded by a cataract, light is scattered so the lens can no longer focus it properly, causing vision problems. Surgery can remove a cataract and restore vision in a healthy eye but people with other eye conditions will still have impaired vision.
Diabetics can experience daily changes in their vision and/or visual functioning because of the disease. Diabetes can cause blood vessels that nourish the retina to develop tiny, abnormal branches that leak. This interferes with vision and may severely damage the retina. Laser procedures and surgical treatments can reduce its progression but regulating blood sugar is the most important step in treating diabetic retinopathy.
A person with low vision will experience sight loss in many ways. Glare impairs vision for someone with diabetic retinopathy, and retinitis pigmentosa often causes night blindness. Partial sight can also present as blurred vision or hazy vision, which appears as a film or glare across the field of vision.
Pay attention to your loved ones. If you notice a family member or friend cannot see clearly in bright areas, has difficulty identifying colors of objects or struggles to read regular print, help them find an eye doctor as soon as possible. The Vision Council, a global resource for vision care products and services, states that up to 80 percent of cases dealing with visual impairment are considered preventable. Through annual comprehensive eye exams, an eye care provider can diagnose and treat many eye conditions early in the disease progression. In many cases, timely care can delay or prevent vision loss.
A vision condition diagnosis often requires regular visits with your ophthalmologist or optometrist. This specialist will set up a rehabilitation plan to maximize remaining eyesight when all measures medically and surgically are reached. The Weigel Williamson Center for Visual Rehabilitation helps people experiencing vision loss use their remaining vision.
Magnifiers, smartphones and other technology with a vision condition continue doing the things they love. Find out more through our adaptive technology training program.
Take care of your eyes, and proactively help a loved one find resources to manage a vision condition when needed and learn the importance of low vision awareness.