Low Vision

Dr. Thomas Lenz of Fischer Laser Eye Center completed a one-year hospital-based residency training program in ocular disease and low vision rehabilitation at a VA Medical Center in Chicago. He helps his low vision patients maximize their vision and regain their independence.

What is "Low Vision"?

Low vision is a term used to describe having impaired but some useful vision that cannot be fully corrected by conventional eyewear, surgery, or medical treatments. An estimated 13 million Americans have some degree of functional vision loss.

What Conditions Lead to Low Vision?

Many eye diseases can significantly impair vision. These are usually chronic conditions that affect either the front or the back of the eye. In this country, the most common causes of low vision are:

  • Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD)
    Macular degeneration is the leading cause of visual impairment in older adults. Patients with ARMD have extremely distorted central vision. Reading and other tasks that were very easy become much more difficult.
  • Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (diabetic eye disease)
    Diabetes is the most common cause of preventable blindness in middle-aged Americans. Patients with severe visual impairment from diabetes often experience a generalized reduction in visual acuity (sharpness), as well as decreased contrast. Bright lights and glare can also cause vision to fluctuate.
  • Glaucoma
    In its early stages, glaucoma has virtually no symptoms, but it can lead to severe visual impairment with reduced peripheral vision.

What Happens During a Low Vision Exam?

During a low vision exam, your doctor will review your condition that has caused the visual impairment. The doctor will then focus on maximizing the remaining functional vision. You will be asked about certain specific goals and realistic expectations regarding your visual rehabilitation. Based on the results of your low vision evaluation, certain low vision devices can be prescribed to maximize remaining vision and help regain independence.

What are "Low Vision Devices"?

Low vision devices are optical or non-optical aids to help you perform a task that would be difficult because of visual impairment. Listed below are some of the most useful low vision aids.

  • Stand magnifier
    A stand magnifier provides proper magnification for prolonged near activities, such as reading. The device is simply set down and moved across the material you wish to read. It works very well for people with arthritis or hand tremors.
  • Hand held magnifier
    This type of magnifier is an excellent tool for quick spot-checking items at near and is great for people on the go. It is very small and portable and can easily be used at the grocery store to check price tags, or at a restaurant to help read the menu.
  • Hand held telescope
    This telescope can be used to spot check objects in the distance. It can be very helpful in unfamiliar surrounding. It is very small and portable and can be used to check a flight time or gate number.
  • Closed circuit television (CCTV)
    CCTV, a computer that magnifies reading material and things like family photos, can be very helpful for people with severe visual impairment. The material you want to see appears on the screen when placed under the monitor and can be magnified up to 32 times its actual size.