Vision Loss

Last Updated March 2021 | This article was created by familydoctor.org editorial staff and reviewed by Peter Rippey, MD, CAQSM

What is vision loss?

Vision loss is losing your ability to see well without some sort of vision correction. Vision correction tools include eyeglasses, contact lenses, permanent artificial lenses, or surgical correction to the eye. Vision loss can happen gradually (slowly over time) or suddenly. You may have partial vision loss or complete loss of vision.

Symptoms of vision loss

You may have vision problems if you have trouble with normal activities, such as reading mail, watching television, signing your name, paying bills, or walking up and down stairs. You might also have trouble recognizing people. You may notice that you squint a lot in order to see things clearly.

What causes vision loss?

Vision changes, such as trouble focusing on close objects, are a normal part of aging. The main causes of vision loss in people older than 40 years of age are:

  • Macular degeneration. This is caused by changes in the macula. The macula is the part of the eye that gives you clear, sharp vision.
  • Glaucoma. This is usually caused by high pressure from the fluid inside the eye.
  • This is caused by a clouding of the lens inside the eye.
  • Diabetic retinopathy. This affects people who have diabetes. It occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in the eyes.

Other common causes of vision loss include injury, infections, and vision changes associated with certain illnesses.

How is vision loss diagnosed?

You may not realize that your vision is getting worse. This is especially true if it is happening gradually. It may be that someone close to you is the first to notice that you’re not seeing well.

Visit your doctor if vision problems keep you from doing your normal activities. They can recommend the right treatment for you, depending on what is causing your vision loss.

Can vision loss be prevented or avoided?

Vision loss may be prevented, depending on what is causing it. For example, you may prevent diabetic retinopathy by preventing type 2 diabetes. You may be able to prevent cataracts by wearing polarized sunglasses when you’re outside. However, you generally can’t prevent age-related vision loss.

Vision loss treatment

Your doctor can help you find specialists to treat your vision problems. For many patients, a team approach is the best way to treat vision loss. Some of the specialists your doctor may recommend include:

  • An ophthalmologist to treat the eye disease causing the vision problems.
  • An optometrist to manage the vision problems. This type of doctor can prescribe optical aids, such as special magnifiers.
  • A physical therapist to help you with balance and walking problems, and to teach you how to use a cane if you need one.
  • An occupational therapist to help you with normal daily activities and to teach you how to use optical aids.
  • A social worker or therapist to help you cope with the emotional issues of vision loss.

Living with vision loss

There are many corrective tools that can help you see when you’re progressively losing your vision. Sometimes, there are even surgical options that can remove the need for eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Sometimes vision loss can’t be corrected. Some forms of vision loss can leave you blind. This can have a dramatic impact on your life. There are many resources that can help you adjust to vision loss, including the  American Foundation for the Blind. You may also want to speak with a therapist to process the emotions of your vision loss. Many people with vision loss lead productive lives with meaningful relationships.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Do I have a disease that is causing my vision loss?
  • Can my vision loss be treated?
  • Is my vision loss permanent?
  • Should I see an eye doctor?
  • Will I go completely blind?
  • What can I do to make my life easier?
  • Can you recommend support groups in the area?
  • What resources are available in my area to help me?
  • Is there someone I can talk to about how I feel about my vision loss?

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