Increase Your Awareness of Low Vision

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For many people, the term “low vision” does not mean much, until a doctor gives them the diagnosis. Lack of awareness about low vision is one reason why Prevent Blindness America promotes national AMD/Low Vision Awareness Month in February. AMD stands for age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of low vision in the United States.

Low vision is defined as a level of vision that is 20/70 or worse and that cannot be fully corrected by wearing conventional glasses. Although people who have low vision have useful sight, the quality of their vision interferes with their ability to perform everyday activities, such as driving, reading, and watching television. Low vision can make it difficult for people to recognize faces and images at a distance or to distinguish colors of similar tones.

Who Develops Low Vision
Low vision is not a natural part of getting older and it can happen to people of any age. One reason why it occurs most often in older adults is that they are the ones most likely to contract the diseases that cause low vision, including macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. Macular degeneration alone affects 1.6 million Americans age 50 and older. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation website, an estimated 4 million Americans have glaucoma although only half of them know it. The eye disease also is responsible for 9 to 12 percent of all cases of blindness in the United States. Diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed in about 65,000 diabetics each year and, according to the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, is responsible for 12,000 to 24,000 new cases of blindness each year.

Symptoms of Low Vision
If you experience any of the following symptoms, it does not necessarily mean you have a low vision problem. However, it is recommended that you contact an eye doctor for a complete examination. An experienced physician can distinguish between normal eye changes and those caused by eye disease. Symptoms of low vision may include but are not limited to difficulty recognizing objects at a distance (as when driving), difficulty seeing well up close (reading), trouble distinguishing colors (especially green-blue-violet range), double or blurry vision, pain or pressure in one or both eyes, and difficulty with peripheral vision.

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What To Do about Low Vision
If low vision problems are recognized early, treatment can begin in an effort to prevent as much deterioration as possible and improve quality of vision and life. An examination for low vision is not the same as a typical eye exam and may involve a test for refraction (to evaluate vision and determine if corrective lenses may be helpful), visual field (which assesses peripheral vision), and ocular motility (to identify how well the eyes move).

What type of eye doctor should you consult? Ophthalmologists are medical or osteopathic doctors who specialize in the eye. They perform eye exams, diagnose and treat disease, prescribe medications and eyeglasses, and perform surgery. Optometrists examine the eyes for vision and health problems, diagnose and treat eye problems and diseases, and prescribe ophthalmic medications. Some optometrists provide low vision care. If you are diagnosed with low vision, you will want to be treated by a low vision specialist.

Treatment for low vision can include several options, including but not limited to optical dev ices that allow you to adapt to limited vision, such as magnifiers and low-vision reading machines; non-optical devices, such as large-print books and talking clocks, watches, blood pressure gauges, and thermometers; and modifications to your environment to allow you to maximize your remaining vision, such as putting tabs on the stove and washing machine so you know how far to turn the knobs. Sometimes occupational therapists are engaged to help with therapy.

Nutritional supplements may provide some help as well. The National Eye Institute’s Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that taking certain antioxidants and zinc significantly reduces the risk of advanced AMD and vision loss. The antioxidants include vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene.

Increased awareness of low vision and the diseases that can cause it is important to preserve eyesight. Anyone who is experiencing symptoms of low vision should consult an eye doctor as soon as possible. When low vision issues are detected early, treatment can begin immediately and help maximize eyesight and quality of life. Although February is national AMD/Low Vision Awareness month, good vision is something everyone wants year round, so please take care of yours today.

SOURCES:
Glaucoma Research Foundation
National Eye Institute
National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Prevent Blindness America

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