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Living Well With Low Vision

You can't correct low vision with glasses or contacts — but you can make the most of your remaining eyesight with a few tools and tricks.

People with low vision have decreased eyesight that is not correctable with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery. Their eyesight loss has made it difficult or impossible for them to see well enough to perform everyday tasks.

For the most part, low vision is not a normal part of the aging process, but instead results from eye diseases and other health conditions that cause irreversible damage. Lost eyesight cannot be regained, but there are many tools and aids available to help people with low vision make the most of their remaining eyesight.

Signs of Low Vision

About 135 million people around the world have low vision, according to the National Eye Institute. Low vision is often caused by these eye conditions:

  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Detached retina
  • Diabetes

The most common types of eyesight loss that result in low vision include:

  • Central vision loss, which creates a blur or blind spot in the center of your vision, but leaves your peripheral (outside of center) vision intact
  • Peripheral vision loss, which leaves central vision clear, but makes it hard or impossible to see to the side or above and below your central line of sight
  • Blurred vision, in which everything you see is blurred, regardless of how near or far away things are
  • Extreme light sensitivity, in which even normal light causes your eyesight to wash out; you might even feel pain from exposure to normal light levels
  • Hazy sight, which feels as though a film, fog, or glare is obscuring your eyesight
  • Night blindness, in which you find it impossible to see outside at night or in darkened areas

If you think you might have low vision, test yourself while wearing your glasses to see if:

  • You have trouble picking out clothing that matches, either by pattern or color
  • Lights that should be bright seem dimmed
  • You find it difficult to recognize the faces of friends and relatives
  • You struggle to read street signs or make out the names of stores
  • You have trouble performing up-close activities like reading, sewing, cooking, or home repairs

If any of these signs sound familiar, you should see an optometrist or ophthalmologist to have your eyesight evaluated.

Maximizing Your Remaining Eyesight

There are many devices available to help people with low vision overcome their vision problems, such as:

  • Magnifying glasses or lenses. These are available as hand-held aids or are mounted in frames.
  • Large-print objects. Books, newspapers, magazines, telephones, thermostats, remote controls, bank checks, and playing cards are just a few of the many household objects that can come with larger type for the visually impaired; many computers are capable of magnifying text and pictures with a simple keystroke.
  • Talking devices. Watches, timers, and other household devices can be purchased in "talking" versions. Talking models of medical devices like blood pressure and blood glucose monitors are also available. Computer users can purchase screen-reading software that will read aloud words on a monitor. People with low vision can also purchase books-on-tape or borrow them from libraries.

To maximize your vision and make your home more livable, also consider these steps:

  • Improve the lighting in your home. Bright, glare-free light can make most tasks easier to accomplish for people with vision problems.
  • Shield your eyes when outside. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect your eyes from bright sunlight outdoors if you experience light sensitivity.
  • Redesign your environment for better visibility. Choose colors that provide maximum contrast in your home to help you see objects better. For example, putting a dark light switch on a white wall will improve the visibility of the switch, and placing light tape on the edge of a dark-colored stairwell will help you avoid a fall. Eliminate carpeting and furniture with striped, plaid, or checked patterns, as they can be visually confusing.
  • Use your other senses. Different textures can help you function around the house even with poor eyesight. For example, when you walk off carpeting onto tile, you'll be able to tell you've left the living room for the kitchen.

Vision loss requires some changes, but advances in technology and product design offer more ways than ever before to make these adjustments.

Everyday Health

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