What Is a Low Vision Specialist?

Treats low vision and prescribes low vision devices

In This Article

A low vision specialist is a licensed doctor of optometry or ophthalmology trained to offer advice and improve the quality of life of people diagnosed with low vision. These professionals can perform low vision eye exams and provide advice and tips to patients and their families on treatments and lifestyle changes to help them maintain independence as their eyes age. They also specialize in training low vision patients on the proper use of low vision devices.

Low vision is a condition characterized by vision that is 20/70 or worse that cannot be fully corrected with medical treatment, surgery, or glasses. Blurred vision, blind spots or tunnel vision can be associated with vision loss. Most people with low vision have some useful sight but find the tasks of everyday life very difficult to accomplish. For example, reading, cooking, driving, and differentiating color may become extremely hard to do. While low vision can impact people of all ages, it is primarily associated with older adults.

Concentrations

A low vision specialist offers services to help patients learn how to use their vision to the fullest potential, they do not offer a cure for the causes of low vision. It is important to understand that low vision care may be used alongside other visual impairment treatments such as laser, medication, and surgery.

Approximately 17 percent of people over the age of 65 are either blind or have low vision.

Low vision is usually a result of certain eye conditions and diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract, and diabetic retinopathy. Sometimes the condition that caused low vision is treatable, and good vision can be restored. Some causes of low vision, such as wet macular degeneration and glaucoma, can be slowed down, even though lost vision cannot be restored.

Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a gradual, progressive, painless deterioration of the macula, the center of the retina that gives us our sharp vision. The condition primarily affects people age 55 and older. Some macular complications that affect younger people may be referred to as macular degeneration, but the term generally refers to age-related macular degeneration.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma refers to a group of diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve. Containing more than a million nerve fibers, the optic nerve connects the eye to the brain. This important nerve is responsible for carrying images to the brain.

Cataract

A cataract is a lens that becomes opaque over time. When severe, the cataract must be removed because it prevents light from entering the eye and decreases vision. In the worst cases, the patient can be nearly blind due to cataracts.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes can cause significant eye-related complications if not properly managed and controlled. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common of these complications and is a leading cause of blindness in American adults.

Procedural Expertise

Low vision specialists can help you make the best use of your remaining vision. They will evaluate your condition and work with you to create a rehabilitation plan to help maximize your remaining functional vision and maintain independence in your daily life.

Optical Devices

These types of useful 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, and 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 print size to make objects and print more easily to see. Examples include high-intensity table lamps, large print reading materials, electronic video magnifiers, and electronic tablets. Also, 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.

Appointment Tips

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

It is a good idea to take along a friend or family member who can listen and ask questions along with you, and offer their support as needed. Remember to ask questions. You will be guided on ways to adapt to your vision loss and to maintain your independence. Visual aids will be prescribed and information about low vision services will be provided.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. VisionAware. The low vision examination.

  2. American Foundation for the Blind. Low vision and legal blindness terms and descriptions.

  3. VisionAware. What is low vision?

  4. American Macular Degeneration Foundation. What is macular degeneration?

  5. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is glaucoma? Updated August 28, 2019.

  6. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What are cataracts? Updated October 1, 2019.

  7. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is diabetic retinopathy? Updated October 24, 2019.

  8. VisionAware. What are low vision optical devices?

  9. VisionAware. Helpful non-optical devices for low vision.

Additional Reading

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vision health initiative. The burden of vision loss. Updated September 25, 2009.