What Is Low Vision?

What "Low Vision" Means
Signs and Symptoms of Low Vision
What Causes Low Vision?
What You Should Know about Low Vision
There is Help for Low Vision
Low Vision Services
The Low Vision Pilot Project

What "Low Vision" Means

As we age, our eyes change too. Many of these changes in vision can be corrected by glasses or contact lenses. However, if your eye doctor tells you that your vision cannot be fully corrected with ordinary prescription lenses, medical treatment, or surgery, and you still have some usable vision, you have what is called "low vision."

Having low vision means that even with regular glasses, contact lenses, medication, or surgery, you may find it difficult to perform everyday tasks, such as reading your mail, shopping, preparing meals, and signing your name.

People age 65 and older, as well as African Americans and Hispanics over age 45, are at higher risk of having low vision from diabetes and glaucoma.

Signs and Symptoms of Low Vision

There are many signs that can indicate low vision. For example, even with your regular eye glasses, do you have difficulty:

Vision changes like these could be early warning signs of eye disease. Usually, the earlier your problem is diagnosed, the better are your chances of undergoing successful treatment and keeping your remaining vision.

Regular dilated eye exams should be part of your routine health care; however, if you think your vision has changed recently, it's recommended that you make an appointment with your eye care professional as soon as possible.

What Causes Low Vision?

Among older persons, low vision can result from specific eye conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy, from a stroke, or from a range of other eye conditions. Low vision may affect your ability to see people's faces or watch television, to read, to drive, and even to match colors.

It is important to discuss your vision with your eye care professional because many causes of decreased vision can be treatable with medicine or surgery.

What You Should Know about Low Vision

Having "low vision" is not the same as being "blind." For example, your doctor may tell you that you have a blind or blank spot in the center of your vision that limits your ability to read or see people's faces; nevertheless, you can still get around using your side (or peripheral) vision:

Simulation of the effects of macular degeneration, with central visual field loss

A simulation of central visual field loss from macular degeneration
Henry Ford Center for Vision Rehabilitation and Research

Or you may have problems seeing well with your peripheral (or side) vision, but still see clearly enough to read the newspaper using your central vision:

A living room viewed through a constricted visual field

A living room viewed through a constricted visual field.
Source: Making Life More Livable. Used with permission.

There is Help for Low Vision

The important thing is to know that help is available for you. For example, doctors who are low vision specialists can provide you with a low vision exam as a first step in determining how you can use your remaining vision. Often, a low vision specialist can give you recommendations about optical and non-optical devices and vision rehabilitation services that can help you to maximize your remaining vision and learn new ways of doing everyday tasks.

Some examples of helpful devices that a low vision specialist can discuss with you include:

Reading with an illuminated stand magnifier

Reading with a lighted
stand magnifier

Low Vision Services

Low vision services can include any or all of the following:

The Low Vision Pilot Project

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) has launched the Low Vision Pilot Project on VisionAware, which expanded the listing of low vision service providers to include independent service providers. Previously, the Directory listed only nonprofit low vision service providers. The services offered by agencies under this category are described as follows:

  • Evaluation and testing of a person's vision
  • Prescription of appropriate optical devices
  • Support, follow-up, and referrals to other appropriate agencies and professionals.
  • The provision of nonoptical and optical devices (such as magnifiers, microscopes, telescopes) and training in their use.

If you are a low vision service provider and would like to be included in the Directory, you may fill out a form to sign up. To find out if you are eligible for inclusion in the AFB Directory of Services, see the eligibility requirements.

To learn about low vision services that are available to you in your area, use VisionAware's Directory of Services to find help.

Personal Stories

  • Kaye Olson
    Kaye Olson is the coordinator of the Coping with Vision Loss Study. She is also an author, nurse, nurse practitioner, and faculty adviser who has experienced her own personal journey through vision loss.

services icon Looking for Help?

Join Our Mission

Help us expand our resources for people with vision loss.