By George Kornfeld, Doctor of Optometry
Ever since optometrist William Feinbloom introduced the first low vision glasses in 1936, there have been low vision solutions that, for whatever reason, are not known to the general public (unlike hearing aids.)
People with vision-limiting conditions are often frustrated because they have been told that there is nothing more that can be done for their vision when, in fact, there often is.
What is Low Vision?
Common medical definitions of low vision include:
• Low vision is vision loss that can’t be corrected with glasses, contacts, medication, or surgery;
• Low vision is a term that refers to vision 20/70 or worse;
• The International Academy of Low Vision Specialists define it as the result of having an eye condition that prevents someone from doing the things that they want to do.
What Are Common Eye Conditions That Can Cause Low Vision?
They include macular degeneration, Stargardt disease, glaucoma, ocular albinism, retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinopathy, stroke-hemianopsia. This is not an exhaustive list and there does need to be some usable vision to work with.
What Are Common Tasks That People Want To Do?
Reading books, newspapers, magazines, sheet music, labels on packaging including prescriptions. They also want to see faces, drive, play cards, crafts, watch TV, and see the food on their utensils.
What Does a Low Vision Specialist/Optometrist Do?
A low vision specialist identifies the correct hands-free device, typically a very specialized type of glasses (microscopes, telescopes, E-Scoop, prismatic reading glasses), to match the eye condition, specific vision, and task that the person wants to do. They may also recommend wearable technology. This could mean that you may need more than one device depending on what you want to see and do.
As the first definition of low vision above states, a low vision specialist can’t fully correct the eye condition. What they do is improve the ability to see and, thereby do, with the person’s usable vision by enhancing, magnifying or expanding the peripheral vision.
How Do I Know if I Have Low Vision?
• Do you have a vision condition?
• Are there things that you can no longer do as a result?
• Does not being able to do these things frustrate you?
If the answer to all three of these questions is ‘Yes’, then you would benefit from a low vision consultation. If the answer to any of these questions is ‘No’, you do not have low vision (you may have poor vision.)
Can Young People Have Low Vision?
Yes. Young people can have the following conditions:
• Stargardt disease (juvenile macular degeneration);
• Nystagmus (where the eyes make repetitive, involuntary horizontal movements);
• High astigmatism (causes blurred distance and near vision);
• Congenital cataracts (a rare birth defect);
• Achromatopsia (color deficiency);
• Rod-cone dystrophy;
• Strabismus (crossed eyes);
• Amblyopia (lazy eye);
Things that young people often want to do are see the board better at school (not have to sit in the front row!), drive, and read better.
How Is a Low Vision Exam Different Than a Regular Eye Exam?
At a low vision office appointment, your low vision specialist may conduct a practical low vision evaluation per The Richard Shuldiner, OD and William Feinbloom, OD philosophy & methods of providing low vision care.
• The appointment does not involve eye drops to dilate the eyes
• The doctor uses an eye chart with larger numbers, the Feinbloom low vision chart
• Your doctor will request that you bring samples of activities that you regularly perform (stock market reading material, needlework, etc.)
• The low vision specialist will prescribe tailor-made glasses specific to your vision and what you want to do
Where Can I Find a Low Vision Specialist Near Me?
The International Academy of Low Vision Specialists has a doctor directory on its website — www.ialvs.org. People do not need a doctor referral to make an appointment.
George Kornfeld is an optometrist who has been serving low vision patients for over 50 years. He owns Low Vision Optometry of Western New York, which has locations in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. For more information, call 866-446-2050 or visit www.kornfeldlowvision.com