By: Jacquelyn Cosgrove, OD
Low vision is any reduction in vision, that limits a person from performing their daily tasks due to a condition or disease, that cannot be improved by conventional glasses or medical treatment. Trauma or eye disease can cause a person to have reduced vision. Low vision is typically diagnosed when one eye is worse than 20/70 in vision. Any person who is having problems functioning independently due to their vision should have a low vision evaluation. There are devices that can be utilized to help improve a person’s useable vision.
How is it different than a regular eye exam?
A low vision exam is different than a comprehensive eye exam. The goal of a low vision evaluation is to help the patient better navigate their daily life with devices such as magnifiers, telescopes, specialized tints, or lights. The evaluation is goal-oriented. The patient describes the visual tasks that are causing difficulties, and devices are trialed to help achieve those tasks.
For example, if a patient is struggling to read the newspaper, a stand magnifier with light could help them to enjoy their Sunday paper again. Just like every patient is not the same, not all devices and techniques work for every patient. Many factors contribute to which devices will work best including severity/type of vision loss, dexterity, and adaptability.
After a patient’s visual goals have been established, vision will be assessed. Standard refraction or a trial frame refraction will be performed to assess if a new pair of glasses would be beneficial. Alternative strategies for maximizing the patient’s vision will be discussed. Most patients with low vision have damaged areas on the eye or along the visual pathway that no longer function the way they should. The goal is for the patient to learn adaptative methods to help use the parts of the eye or visual pathway that are still functioning.
These adaptive methods can include the use of visual devices such as magnifiers, additional lighting, auditory cues, contrast enhancement, and much more. A low vision examination cannot restore the vision that has already been damaged but it can help to make certain visual tasks easier and improve quality of life. Education, counseling, and additional resources for the patient and the family will be discussed throughout the examination.