Low vision is a condition where your visual ability gets impaired and cannot be fully corrected, even with visual aids such as glasses, contact lenses or surgery. It can bring great difficulties in performing daily activities.1
There are various factors that can trigger the development of this condition, including eye surgeries, glaucoma, or even age-related degeneration.
Understanding the aspects related to the condition can help you gain insights and find appropriate strategies to cope with it.
This condition prevents you from reading, writing, navigating your surroundings or recognising faces. Whilst you might still have some degree of functional vision, your quality of life may be largely affected.
There is a degree to which your eyesight is affected. Low vision looks like blind spots and blurry sight and hence cannot be characterised as blindness.1
Types of low vision
There are various ways this condition can manifest; it depends on the development of the condition.
- Central vision loss: the ability to see objects directly in front or at a distance is limited.
- Peripheral vision loss: This refers to a decreased ability to see objects on the sides or edges of the visual field. It can affect orientation and mobility.
- Night blindness: People with night blindness have difficulty seeing in low-light conditions or at night.
- Blurred or distorted vision: Vision may appear hazy, blurry, or distorted, making it challenging to discern details.
- Colour vision deficiency: Some individuals have difficulty distinguishing between certain colours or perceiving them accurately.1
Causes of low vision
Low vision can result from various conditions and factors, including:
- Age-related macular degeneration: central vision impairment caused by ageing.
Glaucoma: the optic nerve gets damaged and causes peripheral vision loss.Diabetic retinopathy: Elevated blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels in the retina, causing vision loss.Cataracts: Clouding of the lens in the eye can lead to blurry or impaired vision.
- Inherited conditions: Certain genetic disorders or conditions present at birth can cause low vision.
- Eye injuries: Trauma or accidents can result in permanent visual impairment.
Conditions such as albinism (reducing colouring and eyesight), eye cancers, brain/eye injuries or inherited disorders can all put you at risk of developing this condition.1,3
Management and treatment for low vision
Certain vision impairments, such as retinopathy caused by diabetes, can be treated to restore or preserve eyesight. However, this is dependent on the cause, and some individuals may experience permanent low vision.
While low vision cannot be fully cured in some cases, there are several strategies to manage and improve the quality of life:
- Optical and Non-Optical Devices:
- Optical devices, such as specialised glasses and filters, can enhance remaining vision by modifying lighting conditions.
- Non-optical devices, including text reading software, check guides, high-contrast clocks and watches, and devices with enlarged numbers, offer practical solutions to overcome visual limitations and promote independence.4, 5
- Visual Rehabilitation: You can receive personalised training and support for your vision. Through techniques such as eccentric viewing (using a different part of the retina) and scanning strategies, the remaining vision can be enhanced. Though limited research has been done, some show benefits for rehabilitation.6
- Assistive Technology: Computers, smartphones, and tablets now offer a wide range of accessibility features, such as screen magnification, high contrast modes, and text-to-speech software. These tools empower individuals to access digital content, communicate, and engage in various activities with greater ease and efficiency.
- Support and Counselling: Coping with the challenges of vision loss can be overwhelming. Depression and anxiety are common in patients who suffer from vision loss. Joining support groups provides an opportunity to connect with others with similar circumstances, share experiences, and exchange practical tips for managing daily life. Professional counselling can help individuals navigate emotional struggles and develop effective coping strategies.4
It is advisable to consult with a doctor regarding the appropriate sources for purchasing visual aids. While low vision cannot be fully cured, a combination of specialised aids, rehabilitation programs, assistive technology, and support systems can make a significant difference.7,8
If you think your vision is limited or has worsened, you should go to your GP or eye care professional to be assessed and get diagnosed. They may conduct acuity tests and evaluate overall eye health.4
How can I prevent low vision
You can reduce the risk by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and protecting your eyes from injury. Managing chronic health conditions such as diabetes or glaucoma is crucial to prevent further impact on your eyesight.
How common is low vision
It is common in those who have had an injury or a condition prior to diagnosis; therefore, anyone can develop it if they have received damage to the eye.
It is commonly diagnosed in older adults as they are more likely to possess conditions that trigger low vision. Diseases such as macular degeneration and glaucoma heavily influence the development of low vision.2 It is common in adults over age 45 and even more common in adults over age 75.
Who is at risk of low vision?
Older adults are more prone to low vision due to age-related eye conditions. However, certain factors, such as a family history of eye diseases, diabetes, hypertension, or previous eye injuries, can increase the risk at any age.1
What can I expect if I have low vision?
With low vision, you may experience difficulties in performing daily activities, reading, recognizing faces, and navigating your surroundings. Most of your eyesight will be limited with increased blind spots.4
When should I see a doctor?
If you notice significant changes in your vision which are affecting your daily life, it is important to consult an eye care professional for an evaluation.
Low vision refers to vision impairment and vision loss. While low vision cannot be fully cured, there are management strategies and preventatives that can slow down the progression and improve the quality of life.
It can give a hard time but there are plenty of low vision services and resources available. You can better your eye health and sight by improving your lifestyle and making routine visits to your vision clinic. If you are already diagnosed, there are ways to cope and adjust to your new lifestyle with minimum effort.
- Low vision | National Eye Institute [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jul 14]. Available from: https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/low-vision#:~:text=Your%20doctor%20can%20check%20for,the%20edges%20of%20your%20vision
- Kaur K, Gurnani B. Low vision aids. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Jul 14]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK585124/
- nhs.uk [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2023 Jul 14]. Albinism. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/albinism/
- Shah P, Schwartz SG, Gartner S, Scott IU, Flynn HW. Low vision services: a practical guide for the clinician. Ther Adv Ophthalmol [Internet]. 2018 Jun 11 [cited 2023 Jul 14];10:2515841418776264. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6024512/
- Margrain TH. Helping blind and partially sighted people to read: the effectiveness of low vision aids. Br J Ophthalmol. 2000 Aug;84(8):919–21.
- van Nispen RM, Virgili G, Hoeben M, Langelaan M, Klevering J, Keunen JE, et al. Low vision rehabilitation for better quality of life in visually impaired adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020 Jan 27;1(1):CD006543.
- Lamoureux EL, Pallant JF, Pesudovs K, Rees G, Hassell JB, Keeffe JE. The effectiveness of low-vision rehabilitation on participation in daily living and quality of life. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2007 Apr;48(4):1476–82.
- Wang BZ, Pesudovs K, Keane MC, Daly A, Chen CS. Evaluating the effectiveness of multidisciplinary low-vision rehabilitation. Optom Vis Sci. 2012 Sep;89(9):1399–408.