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What is Low Vision? Recognize the symptoms and find resources

The Vision Council is pleased to announce the launch of www.whatislowvision.org--a new web site created to educate the public on low vision, its symptoms, and the resources available to help.

As America’s baby boomers enter their senior years, they may notice a gradual loss in some areas of sight. Loss of peripheral or central vision could indicate low vision, a visual impairment that cannot be corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses, pharmaceuticals or surgery. More than 2.9M people in the U.S. suffer from low vision and it is most common in people age 60+.

What is low vision?
“More likely than not, everyone knows someone with low vision—maybe a mother, sister, neighbor, or co-worker,” said Dr. Paul Michelson, Chair of The Vision Council’s medical arm— known as the Better Vision Institute—and  a low vision consultant.  “Recognizing the symptoms of low vision early and taking the proper actions may help preserve sight and in some cases, lessen the advance of low vision.”

Low vision can impair the ability to complete activities of daily living or follow routines and enjoy pastimes—such as reading—that people take for granted. 

Symptoms
At first, people might notice a bit of distortion in their vision.  An object that is straight in reality—a telephone pole, for example— may appear curved or wavy to a person with low vision.  A low vision diagnosis is often the result of age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, or another aging eye disease. 

Low vision differs from presbyopia, which is when the ability to focus on near objects diminishes. Presbyopia, which can be corrected with reading glasses or other optical solutions, typically emerges between ages 40 and 45.  Signs of low vision are broader than presbyopia and include:
• Areas of blurred or distorted vision or spots and blotches in your vision
• Shadowed or darkened field of view or noticeable loss of peripheral vision
• A gradual loss of central vision
• Cloudy and blurred vision or exaggerated “halos” around bright lights
• Blind spots in your field of view            

Preventive Measures and Resources
Seeing an eye doctor at the first sign of any visual changes can help to detect the diseases that result in low vision.  In general, seeing an eye doctor is an important step in maintaining eye health.  The onset of low vision is a slow progression of symptoms and the ultimate goal is to maintain remaining sight and prevent further deterioration in vision.

Sometimes, a pharmaceutical or surgical solution may stop further development of one of the diseases associated with low vision, but there are also eye care providers who specialize in low vision.  These specialists can introduce patients to low vision devices such as stand magnifiers, closed-circuit TVs, and telescopic lenses that help people affected by low vision maintain independence and improve their ability to perform daily tasks. 

Dr. Michelson continued, “We urge people to check on family, friends, and neighbors who might be experiencing some of the signs of low vision.  Vision rehabilitation, and low vision devices can help people maintain and optimize visual function, and preserve as much sight as is possible.’’

At the onset of any symptoms of low vision, The Vision Council reminds people to:
• Seek an accurate diagnosis and develop a good relationship with an eye care provider
• Know the risk factors of not maintaining sight and the overall prognosis 

To learn more about low vision and find resources, visit www.whatislowvision.org.
"The information and resources on this new website can teach people more about the changes they are experiencing and help them make the most of their remaining vision—which can lead to increased independence and quality of life,” said Dr. Michelson.

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