February is Low Vision Awareness Month: Here’s What you Need to Know

February is Low Vision Awareness Month, and there is no better time to protect one of your most important senses – your eyesight. Learning about the causes and risk factors related to low vision and scheduling a screening for yourself or a loved one is the key to protecting your sight as you age. If you are proactive about your health and well care, then learning more about low vision is an essential component of good health and wellness.

What is Low Vision?
When your eyesight is impaired to the degree that you struggle with daily tasks like reading or cooking – or that you have difficulty recognizing faces, you may have a medical condition referred to as low vision. Someone with low vision can’t simply put on a pair of glasses or contacts and see well; this condition is beyond the typical loss of vision that occurs with aging.

Individuals experiencing low vision can struggle with maintaining independence; hobbies, reading and even socializing may become challenging as vision loss progresses. Because of the impact low vision can have on your life, it is essential to have your eyes checked by a low vision specialist if you have any concerns.

Since it is unusual to be able to restore vision once it is lost, screenings can help preserve the vision you have and help you access adaptive lenses and devices if you need them. While there is not a cure for low vision, your specialist can help you adapt and if needed, create a vision rehabilitation program designed to meet your specific needs.

What Conditions Cause Low Vision?

Low vision can be caused by several factors, and while age plays a role, it is not the only risk factor involved. Some common causes of low vision in seniors and adults of all ages include macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts or eye injury. Diabetes can also lead to extreme vision problems and result in low vision. Learning more about the conditions related to low vision can help you take proactive steps to protect your health and eyesight.

Age Related Macular Degeneration
Age Related Macular Degeneration causes spots or blurry, uneven vision right in the center of the eye; this degenerative disease impacts the retina. Since macular degeneration affects the ability to see straight ahead, it can prevent you doing many of the tasks of daily life. Early detection is essential for those experiencing vision changes due to macular degeneration; in many cases, surgery can halt the progression of the condition.

Risk factors for macular degeneration include advanced age; this condition is the most common reason for low vision in adults over the age of 55; women have a slightly higher risk than men. Smoking and uncontrolled high blood pressure can also increase your risk of developing this condition; obesity has been linked to increased risk as well. Millions of people are diagnosed with age related macular degeneration each year; a visit with a low vision specialist is the right place to start if you are concerned about this condition.

Glaucoma
Patients with glaucoma have damage to the optic nerve; this can result in low vision or even blindness if not properly identified and treated. For most people, vision loss begins along the sides of the eyes and in the periphery. Early detection is essential, since the damage caused by glaucoma is not reversable. The sooner this condition is discovered the better; while glaucoma can’t be cured, the damage can be controlled if it is caught early.

Your optic nerve connects your retina to your brain and allows you to see; when your optic nerve is damaged, your sight is impacted. Risk factors include aging; glaucoma is more likely to occur in older adults than younger people. Pressure in the eye is another risk factor; if you have high blood pressure, your glaucoma risk could be elevated as well. A family history of glaucoma and race also contribute to risk. African Americans and Mexican Americans have an elevated risk of contracting this condition.

Glaucoma is difficult to detect; some individuals don’t realize they have a problem until they begin to experience vision loss. Because of the insidious nature of glaucoma, regular eye exams and low vision screenings are essential and could save your sight.

Diabetic Retinopathy
While diabetes can increase your risk of developing a variety of eye related conditions, some vision related complaints are directly linked to the disease. Diabetes can cause changes in the blood vessels in the eye; these changes can occlude the vision, resulting in difficulties seeing. Diabetic retinopathy causes damage to the retina and is one of the most common causes of blindness in adults. Like other eye conditions, diabetic retinopathy can go undetected until permanent damage occurs.

There are several stages of diabetic retinopathy ranging from moderate to severe. As with other conditions that cause low vision, regular screening and well care is essential and will help detect this condition early. This condition occurs in diabetics and adults of any age can be affected; if you have diabetes, you should be aware of your risk and see your eye care professional regularly.

Protecting your Vision
Regular eye exams are essential for all adults; the American Optometric Association recommends that adults over the age of 60 have eye exams each year. For older adults, diabetics and anyone with the risk factors above, a visit with a low vision specialist may be warranted as well. This specialist differs from a conventional optometrist and is trained to detect low vision and offer solutions and adaptations to help you retain or regain independence and the ability to do things you enjoy.

Seeing a Low Vision Specialist

If you have risk factors for low vision, are concerned about your own sight or the sight of a loved one, it is time to see a low vision specialist. A comprehensive exam with this specialist will help determine the cause behind the vision loss and testing to ensure that the patient can do the things they enjoy and that current prescriptions are accurate.

Expect to spend several hours with a low vision specialist; during this time, you’ll have not only an eye exam, but an in-depth look at what low vision aids might help you best. The right glasses and prescription, along with lenses designed to cut glare and brightness, can help improve vision; other adaptive devices are also available if needed. Magnifiers, CCTV and other aids can be deployed as needed to help patients deal with low vision and retain their independence.

A visit with a low vision specialist can help a visually-impaired person to lead a fully independent life despite visual restrictions. There are also low vision rehabilitation centers which house teams of low vision specialists, rehabilitation teachers, mobility/orientation specialists, occupational therapists, and other professionals in other areas as needed.

Help for Vision Problems
While Low Vision Awareness Month is the ideal time to learn about this condition and about the risk factors you could be facing, you should get in touch with a low vision specialist any time you have concern about your eyesight. Any time you notice a change in vision, if you receive a new diagnosis or have one or more of the risk factors detailed above you should schedule an appointment right away.
If you have concerns now or any time of year, contact us for an appointment and to learn more about your vision. You’ll get peace of mind that comes from knowing you are taking proactive measures to protect your health and vision, and if needed, the adaptive tools you need to resume your favorite activities and routines.