What is the difference between low vision and poor vision?
Beyond the borders of the vision community, the average person, likely is unfamiliar with the term ‘low vision’. It has become somewhat synonymous with the term ‘poor vision’. Even in the vision community, there are different definitions floating around that cause confusion, especially when it concerns referring a patient to a low vision specialist.
Two common definitions are:
- Low vision is vision that can't be adequately corrected with glasses, contacts, medication, or surgery.
- Low vision is a term that refers to vision 20/70 or worse.
As we define it in our practice, low vision is a result of having an eye condition that prevents someone from doing the things that they want to do.
Common eye conditions that can cause low vision are:
- macular degeneration
- Stargardt disease
- ocular albinism
- retinitis pigmentosa
- diabetic retinopathy
Patients whose eyesight is affected might be having trouble performing tasks such as:
- reading- books, newspapers, magazines, sheet music, labels on packaging including prescriptions
- seeing faces
- playing cards
- art projects
- watching tv
- seeing food on utensils
Although the damage sustained may be uncorrectable, our exclusive objective is to capture and maximize the utility of a person’s remaining vision. We can attain our objective through the prescription of highly specialized devices.
Our low vision practice focuses on identifying the best vision-enhancing device to allow the performance of specific tasks. Custom low vision glasses, such as bioptic telescopes, or microscope and prismatic reading glasses, are just a few examples of the hands-free aids at our disposal. Often, more than one device is prescribed to accomplish different tasks.
An example of a low vision patient is Jane.
Jane has macular degeneration. She found out that regular glasses won’t help and there isn’t a cure. She can’t read her Bible anymore or see the numbers well enough on her bills. It’s also hard to tell what is happening on tv. She feels frustrated and down. Jane has low vision. She is a perfect candidate for a low vision evaluation.
Here are some questions that may identify someone is a low vision candidate.
- Do you have a vision condition?
- Are there things that you can no longer do as a result?
- Does the inability to do these things frustrate you?
If the answer to all three of these questions is ‘Yes’, then the person would benefit from a low vision consultation. If the answer to any of these questions is ‘No’, they do not have low vision (they may have poor vision.)
Let’s compare a person with hearing loss to a low vision patient. For example, George has mild hearing loss (poor hearing). He mentions it to his primary care physician, but it is not severe enough to warrant a referral to an audiologist. Instead, George goes out and buys an over-the-counter amplification device so that he can hear his tv better.
Then there is Dennis. Dennis has more severe hearing loss than George. There are some tones that he can’t hear like the seatbelt alarm in his car, and he is concerned that his hearing could put him in physical danger. His primary care physician referred him to an audiologist. Dennis’ audiologist prescribed a specific hearing aid so that he could hear the missing tones and live confidently again.
Low vision specialists are the audiologists of the visual world. Our patients have moderate to severe vision loss and are frustrated with their inability to function in their everyday lives. We assess and prescribe custom, physical solutions for the things they want to do. Oftentimes, we see our patients for the initial assessment, at the dispensing, and thereafter, annually, or as needed to assess any vision loss that occurs over time.
Ever since William Feinbloom OD introduced low vision glasses in 1936 there has been hope and promise for people with low vision. Only recently has the standard of care evolved into the referral of low vision patients to a low vision specialist. What was once hope and promise is now a reality.
Our commitment has always been and continues to be that “There is life after vision loss”.