Millions of people across the globe live with a condition known simply as low vision, which is caused by an eye ailment and characterized by a decline in sight so severe that surgeries and traditional glasses and contacts can’t fix it.
February is Low Vision Awareness Month. Faculty from the Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology are answering questions about the condition in hopes of teaching community members more about it.
What is low vision?
Low vision is a condition of reduced visual functioning, typically where the visual field is significantly reduced or the better seeing eye has a visual acuity measurement worse than 20/70 (with 20/20 considered unimpaired), said Melanie Pickett, OD, the director of optometric services and assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology for the IU School of Medicine.
Low vision comes in conjunction with a diagnosed eye disease or injury, and people of any age, race or sex can experience it, Pickett said. Low vision remains even after treatment with standard refractive correction.
An estimated 124 million people in the world live with the disorder, according to the World Health Organization.
How is low vision treated?
While there isn’t a cure for low vision, the condition can be treated.
Louis B. Cantor, MD, the Jay C. and Lucile L. Kahn Professor of Ophthalmology, said the first line of defense is understanding what’s causing a patient’s low vision. From there, doctors must do everything they can to halt its progression.
Most patient with low vision are adequately helped with glasses that optimize their existing vision, Cantor said. Beyond that, a low vision specialist can prescribe special prescription glasses or adaptive devices that are tailored to specific goals the patients wished to achieve, such as magnification for reading, better distance vision and tints to improve contrast or reduce glare.
Low vision services can help a patient regain some independence because specialists can help teach a patient how to use their remaining vision more efficiently, Pickett said. These services can be utilized by anyone with less than optimal vision, she said.
What are some symptoms of low vision?
Symptoms of low vision can vary but often include decreased peripheral vision, blurred central vision, worsening glare, or impaired night vision Cantor said. Patients might also find themselves walking into things mistakenly or experience trouble reading, driving or recognizing faces, he said.
Taking advantage of individualized low vision services in these instances is important because professionals can ensure a patient receives the proper low-vision aids based on their symptoms, Cantor said.
“Otherwise patient may end up with a lot of expensive glasses and devices that do not work for them and just end up in a drawer,” he added.
Doctors in the IU School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology working out of the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute, 1160 W. Michigan St., Indianapolis, and the Indiana University Health Springmill Professional Building, 10300 North Illinois St., Indianapolis, can refer anyone who might be experiencing low vision to a qualified specialist.
To make an appointment, contact Indiana University Health at 317-944-2020.