February is low vision awareness month, sponsored by Prevent Blindness America, located in Chicago, Illinois. “Low vision is a term commonly used among eye care professionals to mean partial sight, or sight that isn’t fully correctable with surgery, medications, contact lens, or glasses,” said Mark Wilkinson, O.D., Director of Vision Rehabilitation Services at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
There are a number of causes of low vision, such as:
• “Cataracts: causes vision to be lazy.”
• “Macular Degeneration: effects center vision.”
• “Diabetic Retinopathy: causes distorted or blurred vision.”
• “Glaucoma: Loss in peripheral vision and difficulty seeing at night.”
Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss affecting 1.6 million Americans over the age of fifty. The National Eye Institute estimates that 17 million people will be affected by low vision in 2020.
Currently, we are most aware of the obvious treatments for low vision; glasses, contact lens, surgery, and to some degree, medications. However, other alternatives do exist and often follow tried and true treatments methods for other disabilities. For example, someone with low vision that is untreatable with the typical methods just mentioned might be sent to a rehabilitation facility to learn alternative ways to perform once familiar tasks, i.e., brushing one’s teeth, using the shower, etc.. These new methods may include the use of high tech equipment or even the enhancement of another sense, such as touch.
It is important, just as in any other area of our medical condition, that we pay very close attention to changes in the status quo. Don’t discount any minor change to your or your loved ones’ vision.
Although this change may be temporary, it could mean the beginning of some significant deterioration of vision that might be correctable before it impacts your ability to function on a daily basis.
As with many other medical illnesses, low vision is being researched all the time with many new and positive results coming regularly. For example, “there are some injections that not only stabilize vision, but enhance vision. There’s a great deal of work on genetic therapy, as well as gene-directed therapy, to help people function better. There’s a variety of new electronic magnification devices and computer software programs that can help people function better despite reduced vision.”