5 Things You Need to Know About Low Vision

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Optometrist George Kornfeld has been providing low vision services for 47 years. He sees patients in Syracuse and other locations in Upstate New York.
Optometrist George Kornfeld has been providing low vision services for 47 years. He sees patients in Syracuse and other locations in Upstate New York.

All of your five senses matter. The deterioration of any of them can greatly decrease quality of life.

When it comes to vision, there are a variety of issues that may present themselves — blurriness, difficulty distinguishing distant and nearby objects, blind spots and fading of colors, among others.

Different eye conditions affect vision in unique ways. Almost 12 million people aged 40 years and older in the United States have vision impairment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The eyes are how we take in the world whether that is reading, taking a walk, playing with your grandchildren and other people you love, enjoying nature or doing our practical everyday tasks,” said optometrist George Kornfeld, who has been providing low vision services for 47 years. “Routine eye examinations throughout one’s life are important in order to identify abnormalities and provide appropriate interventions.”

Kornfeld, who sees patients in Syracuse and other locations in Upstate New York, talks about eye conditions and what can be done about them.

1. What is low vision?

Low vision is a general term used when eye function is below a certain threshold and impacts its function. The condition includes macular degeneration, which affects the macula, causing slow progressive deterioration of central vision. Even though this can happen at any age, it is more common among the elderly. People with macular degeneration frequently respond well to specialized devices such as magnifiers, telescopic glasses, prismatic high-power reading glasses, closed circuit television reading systems.

“These electronic devices enhance vision and facilitate independence. Visual problems are often invisible and cause challenges in everyday activities, mobility and social interactions,” said Kornfeld.

2. What devices can help improve low vision?

A low vision practitioner evaluates a patient’s functional vision and their personal visual goals. There are several types of eyewear that Kornfeld may prescribe to meet the visual needs of low vision patients. Among them are hand-held magnifiers, filters and large print materials. He may suggest telescopic eyeglasses or prismatic eyewear, which are strong magnifiers mounted in glasses to alleviate the need to hold a hand magnifier. Another type of low vision device is tinted E-scoop glasses which magnify an image and help with distance vision.

“Some of my patients consider me the last stop for people who have vision loss,” said Kornfeld, one of a small number of doctors in the world who specialize in fitting bioptic telescopes. “These are powerful enhancements that take away the need for someone to read with a physical magnifying glass going from page to page. Some telescopes enable a patient to watch television, see concerts and plays, and even continue driving.”

3. Live a healthy life

Although one cannot always prevent disease, there are some proven methods to decrease the odds. Vision experts recommend not smoking, taking eye vitamins, eating green leafy vegetables, antioxidants and eating more fish and nuts, which may slow the progression of macular degeneration. People with diabetes can experience day-to-day changes in their vision called diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes can cause blood vessels that nourish the retina to develop tiny, abnormal branches that leak. This can interfere with vision and, over time, may severely damage the retina.

“If you practice overall good health, exercise, make sure your blood pressure and cholesterol are low, you are doing all the correct things in life to maintain good visual health,” said Kornfeld, who is a fellow of the American Academy of Optometry and the International Academy of Low Vision Specialists.

An ophthalmologist or an optometrist can check for eye health and treat medical eye conditions and determine the status of your vision.

“My job as a low vision optometrist is to figure out everything and anything possible to enhance functional vision so that my patient can do the things they love to do and need to do. Losing eyesight is a crisis both practically and emotionally.  Patients need to know their options.”

4. Wear protection

To protect your eyes from harmful solar radiation, you should wear sunglasses that block 100% UV rays whenever you are outdoors in the daylight. The World Health Organization estimates up to 20% of cataracts may be caused by overexposure to UV radiation.

“You want to make sure you are protecting your eyes from the sun which is essential,” he added. “We recommend that people wear sunglasses especially if they are going to be out for longer periods of time whether that is driving or doing outdoor activities like gardening.

5. What are some of the signs of low vision?

Symptoms of low vision include blurry and blind spots, changes in ability to watch television, see traffic signs, drive at night, read, and navigate safely. People who experience these difficulties should consult an eye professional.   

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