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What is low vision?

Low vision means that even with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery people find it hard to see things clearly and everyday tasks difficult to carry out. Many people who have low vision would describe their vision loss more as “poor eyesight” or “poor vision”.

Irreversible vision loss is most common among people over the age of 65. Low vision can range from a partial loss of vision such as blind spots to being registered as blind/severely sight impaired or partially sighted/sight impaired.


Is losing vision just part of getting older?


Some normal changes in our eyes and vision occur as we get older:


  1. Presbyopia – as you get older the lens of the eye begins to lose elasticity, making it harder to focus on things close up, such as reading. This is easily corrected with reading glasses.
  2. Declining contrast sensitivity – As the eye gets older the lens becomes more dense and yellow. These changes may make it more difficult to distinguish between colours e.g. blue may appear darker and more like black. It may also be difficult to distinguish between where an object ends and its background which could making seeing steps difficult for example.
  3. Needing more light – As the eye ages, the pupil gets smaller. The result of this is that to see things clearly more light will be needed and the eye will need more time to adjust to different levels of light e.g. when going inside after being outside.


Most people develop low vision because of eye diseases and health conditions like macular degeneration, cataract, glaucoma, and diabetes or as a result of an eye injury. While vision that is lost usually cannot be restored, many people can make the most of the vision they have.


A person with low vision may experience one or more of the following:


  1. a lack of visual acuity or sharpness where objects appear blurred, that doesn’t improve with glasses or contact lenses.
  2. a reduction in their ability to distinguish and see contrast between colours or images or to determine where objects are located.
  3. a significantly reduced field of vision.


It is important to visit your optometrist or GP if you notice any changes in your vision as they will be able to tell the difference between normal changes in the aging eye and those caused by eye diseases. They will then be able to advise you of the best course of action to help your vision.


What might a person with an eye disease causing low vision be able to see?


A person with cataracts may find their vision hazy and see
A person with cataracts may find their vision hazy and see this


Macular degeneration can cause vision to be blurred or partially obscured in the centre and can result in a person seeing
A person with Macular degeneration may find their vision to be blurred or partially obscured in the centre and see this


Distorted or blurred vision from diabetic retinopathy could mean a person sees
A person with Diabetic Retinopathy may find their vision to be blurred or distorted and see this


Vision is reduced in the periphery or outer part and is poor at night due to glaucoma and a person sees
A person with glaucoma may find their periphery or outer vision to be reduced and see this


or retinitis pigmentosa which may be seen as
A person with retinitis pigmentosa may see this


Glaucoma can also affect central vision in the latter stages of the disease.

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