February is recognized as Low Vision Awareness Month to spread the word about resources available for people living with low vision.
The National Eye Institute predicts that by 2050 the number of people living with vision impairment or blindness will double. Another 16.4 million Americans are predicted to live with corrective eye problems like short or far-sightedness, which can be corrected using glasses, contact lenses, or surgery.
Yet statistics show that more than half of Americans don’t seek eye care, citing lack of awareness and cost of services as the main reasons for not seeking help.
This highlights the importance of initiatives like Low Vision Awareness Month, where we can all do our part to share information with those who can benefit from it.
What is low vision?
Low vision is a degenerative condition where a person’s eyesight fades until they find it difficult to cope with everyday activities like reading price labels when shopping, recognizing people’s faces, and seeing television or computer screens clearly. There is no cure for low vision, but people can keep their sight for longer by using corrective devices like magnifying glasses, specialized computer software, and sometimes surgery if a reversible eye disease like glaucoma or cataract is the cause of low vision.
Whether you develop a low vision problem depends on many factors. One of them is genetics. If your parents wore glasses and experienced vision loss during their twilight years, chances are that you might also need glasses one day.
National Health Institute has identified four types of low vision resulting from various eye diseases or conditions.
- Peripheral vision loss. When you cannot see out of the corners of your eyes.
- Central vision loss. When you cannot see things in the center of your eye, objects and people’s faces seem like blurry blobs in the middle with clearer details on the outside.
- Night blindness. When you cannot see well in twilight or low-light conditions, driving a car at night can be difficult or impossible because you cannot see the lane markings.
- Blurry or hazy vision. When you cannot distinguish details of objects or read print, the words appear blurry or hazy, and you cannot make out letters (especially small print).
Causes of low vision
People of any age can be diagnosed with low vision because it can arise from various conditions and injuries. Low vision may result from eye or brain injury during an accident, but it’s more common in adults over the age of 45 and most common in adults over the age of 75.
The main causes of low vision are age-related conditions like:
- Diabetes-related retinopathy
- Macular degeneration
- Acute and Chronic Glaucoma
Risk factors for developing eye disease
Risk factors for developing problems with vision increase with age. If you’re already over 75, you may be at increased risk. But age isn’t the only risk factor for developing low vision.
Other factors that can put you at higher risk for developing vision impairments are:
- Family history of eye health issues
- Chronic condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure
- African American, Hispanic, or Native American descent
Even if none of the above factors apply to you, it’s still a good idea to get your eyes examined, especially if you’re over 45. That way you can be on the lookout for any deterioration that may be happening unnoticed.
Keep your eyes healthy and protect your vision
It’s important to get your eyes examined by a qualified medical professional at least once every two years. Keeping tabs on your eye health will help you get better, more effective treatment in case any eye problems are discovered during the exam. It’s especially important to have your eyes checked out because many eye diseases don’t have any warning signs until it’s too late and the eye structure has been damaged. Starting treatment early in the disease process has a far greater success rate.
Schedule a full dilated eye examination
Just like you go to a doctor for a yearly physical, you can book an appointment for an eye examination with an optometrist or ophthalmologist. The exam is painless, and it’s the only sure way to discover if there are any problems with your eyes or vision. Early diagnosis equals better treatment outcomes. So make a routine eye exam part of your yearly checkup.
Even though you may not be able to prevent developing a low vision condition, according to the National Health Institute, taking care of your eyes every day will preserve your sight for as long as possible.
- Wear sunglasses. When going outside, wear sunglasses. Even if the weather is cloudy, the sun still penetrates the clouds, and the UV rays can cause damage to your eyes.
- Wear protective eyewear. Use protective eyewear if you’re doing activities that may cause injury to your eyes—especially during welding, construction work, or home repairs. Pleasure activities like skiing, motorbiking, or diving can easily result in eye damage if you don’t use protective eyewear. Also, don’t forget to protect children’s eyes during sporting activities. Protect their eyes while they’re young so they can keep their vision for longer as they age.
- Prevent eye strain. When you’re working at a computer screen for long hours, remember to take breaks and let your eyes rest throughout the day. Also, you may want to invest in protective glasses that reduce screen glare.
- Keep contact lenses clean. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how long a contact lens should be worn. Make sure your hands are clean before removing or inserting contact lenses, and use the prescribed contact lens solution to make sure you don’t introduce any germs into your eyes. Repeated infections may cause damage to your vision.
Best place to find help when your eyesight is fading
If you notice changes in your vision, visit an eye specialist to be examined and, if need be, directed to a vision rehabilitation service.
Vision rehabilitation can be a lifesaver for those living with vision loss. These services help you keep your independence despite deteriorating eyesight and help you choose the correct assistive devices so you can keep the vision you have left for longer.
Living with low vision
Millions of people in the US live with a visual impairment which can make it hard to do everyday activities like driving, reading, or cooking. Unlike some visual disturbances like near or far-sightedness, visual impairments can’t be corrected with glasses, contacts, or surgery.
The good news is there are resources available, like vision rehabilitation services, that can help people with a visual impairment make the most of the vision they have so they can keep doing the things they love.
Take some time this Low Vision Awareness Month to spread the word about vision rehabilitation and be sure to sign up for Evidation today to get more health tips and resources.
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