Low Vision Specialist: Expertise, Specialties, and Appointment Tips

Treats and prescribes devices for 20/70 vision or worse

A low vision specialist is a licensed doctor of optometry or ophthalmology who is trained to improve the quality of life for people with low vision—20/70 vision or worse that can't be fully corrected with medical treatment, surgery, or glasses.

If you have low vision, you may struggle with everyday tasks—reading, cooking, or things that require you to differentiate colors, for example. A low vision specialist does not treat whatever is causing your vision issues, but can exam your eyes and provide advice on how to better navigate these challenges and maintain your independence over time.

Low vision specialists can also train you in the proper use of assistive devices designed to help people with low vision.

Asian senior fatigue man taking off glasses during using smartphone
Kriangsak Koopattanakij / Getty Images

Who Needs a Low Vision Specialist?

About 17% of people over the age of 65 have some level of visual impairment. Some of these people may benefit from a vision-specialist evaluation.

Some reasons you may be referred to a low vision specialist:

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a gradual, progressive, painless deterioration of the macula, the center of the retina that sharpens your vision
  • Glaucoma, a group of diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve (which connects the eye to the brain)
  • A cataract, a lens that becomes opaque over time, preventing light from entering the eye and decreases vision (sometimes to the point of blindness)
  • Diabetic retinopathy, when diabetes damages blood vessels in the eye

What a Low Vision Specialist Can Do For You

Low vision specialists can help you make the best use of your remaining vision. They will:

  • Evaluate your condition by conducting eye exams
  • Recommend or prescribe certain visual aids to maximize your vision, including optical devices, non-optical devices, and adaptive devices
  • Work with you to create a rehabilitation plan to maximize your remaining functional vision and maintain independence in your daily life

Optical Devices

These helpful devices use lenses to magnify images so that objects or print appear larger to the eye, making them much easier to see.

Examples may include:

  • Magnifying reading glasses
  • Stand magnifiers
  • Hand-held magnifiers
  • Pocket-sized telescopes

Non-Optical Devices

Instead of using lenses to magnify images, these useful devices increase lighting levels, improve contrast, decrease the effects of glare, or increase the print size to make objects and print easier to see.

Examples include:

  • High-intensity table lamps
  • Large-print reading materials
  • Electronic video magnifiers
  • Electronic tablets

In addition, special sunglasses with absorptive lenses can filter out ultraviolet and infrared light, reduce glare, and increase contrast. Non-optical devices can also be used in combination with optical devices.

Adaptive Devices

Designed to make everyday tasks easier to do with little or no vision, the following special devices may be useful:

  • Large-print books, newspapers, magazines, playing cards, and blank checks
  • Techniques such as writing and signing guides to highlight certain important areas
  • Large-numbered telephones, thermostats, watches, and remote controls
  • Talking devices such as watches, timers, books, and simple medical machines
  • Bold-tipped markers for easy-to-read notes and lists

How to Find a Low Vision Specialist Near You

Your referring healthcare provider may be able to give you the names of trusted low vision specialists, if they are unable to provide you with this type of care themselves.

If you are looking for one on your own, you can ask your primary care provider for their help or use an online directory to find a low vision specialist in your area.

Some to try:

  • International Academy of Low Vision Specialists provides a state-by-state directory of low vision doctors and includes a profile for each doctor with their location, phone number, and website.
  • American Optometric Association offers an online directory for doctors of optometry. You can search based on the doctor or practice name, city, state, or zip code. You can also refine your search for specific practice services, special emphasis, or spoken language. Select "Low Vision" under the "Practice Services" selection to find a low vision specialist.
  • American Academy of Ophthalmology has an online directory for ophthalmologists. The results can be filtered by the doctor's name, location, or subspecialty.

Appointment Tips

A comprehensive low vision eye exam can help your low vision specialist determine the extent of your vision loss and the potential for vision rehabilitation. Be prepared for several vision tests and the dilation of your pupils with eye drops.

Remember to ask any questions you may have. It may help to make a list in advance. It's a good idea to bring a friend or family member who can listen, ask questions along with you, and offer their support as needed. You will be guided on ways to adapt to your vision loss and maintain your independence.

Additional Treatment for the Causes of Low Vision

It's important to understand that low vision care may be used independently or alongside medical treatments such as laser therapies, medication, and surgery, depending on the cause.

For example:

  • The wet form of AMD may be treated with injections into the eye and, in some cases, laser therapy. This may prevent or stunt the progression of further vision loss.
  • Most cases of glaucoma are treated with prescription eye drops. Laser treatment and, if ineffective, surgery are other treatment options.
  • Aside from corrective lenses, a cataract can be treated with surgery to replace the affected lens.
  • Medical treatment for diabetic retinopathy may include injections, laser treatment, or surgery (in cases of retina bleeding or scarring). Managing diabetes is also critical.

Some conditions may be able to be fully treated, allowing good vision to return. Others may only be slowed down, though lost vision cannot be restored.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the lowest eye vision?

    Less than 20/1000 on the visual acuity scale is near-total low vision. Beyond that, no light perception at all is considered total blindness.

  • Is low vision considered legally blind?

    No. Low vision refers to vision that affects your daily life, is 20/70 or less, and can't be corrected. Legal blindness is a visual acuity of 20/200 or less and a visual field of 20 degrees or less, even with corrective lenses.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Foundation for the Blind. Low vision and legal blindness terms and descriptions.

  2. VisionAware. What Are Low Vision Optical Devices?

  3. VisionAware. Helpful Non-optical Devices for Low Vision.

  4. International Academy of Low Vision Specialists. Find a low vision doctor.

  5. American Optometric Association. Find a doctor of optometry.

  6. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Find an ophthalmologist.

  7. VisionAware. The Low Vision Examination.

  8. National Eye Institute. Diabetic Retinopathy.

  9. National Eye Institute. Glaucoma.

  10. National Eye Institute. Cataracts.

  11. National Eye Institute. Diabetic Retinopathy.

  12. American Optometric Association. Low vision and vision rehabilitation.

Additional Reading

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.