Low Vision Exam. What is it? Who Needs it?  What comes next?

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Low vision exams improve the quality of life for anyone with impaired vision. Students and youth with blindness or low vision often need classroom accommodations. These adjustments, like choice in seating, can be simple. But often, tools such as reading glasses or bifocal lenses are required to magnify printed materials.

People of all ages with low vision benefit from low-vision optometrists who assess them for specialized tools. These tools may include hand-held magnifiers for reading or electronic magnifiers for various tasks. Modern assistive technology combines mainstream and specialized tools, like tablet-based magnifiers, to provide equal access to school apps and resources.

Scheduling regular eye exams for yourself or your child is an important part of developing a healthy, active lifestyle. For people with low vision, reading, writing, recognizing faces, watching TV, or even driving a car can be possible with specialized tools and devices.

Depending on the exam, an eye care professional may recommend prescription low-vision glasses or several low-vision aids or devices to help you maintain your hobbies and daily activities. But what exactly is the difference between a regular eye exam and a low vision exam?

Types of Eye Exams

When we hear the term “eye exam,” most of us think of the routine eye exams we receive from our eye doctor or perhaps a series of exams with an ophthalmologic specialist. These routine exams are important, even if we do not wear glasses or contact lenses. An eye exam can reveal a lot about our general health. The general recommendation is that children should receive a comprehensive eye exam every year and adults should receive one every two years. Depending on your child’s eye condition and medical history, your child’s ophthalmologist or optometrist may recommend more frequent visits. During these visits, the doctor will check your or your child’s eye health and the status of a current eyeglasses prescription.

A low vision exam focuses on functional vision and helping people attain visual function and independence for specific tasks. Low-vision doctors work with patients to understand their goals, whether related to classroom needs, vocational needs, independence with daily living, or hobbies and other interests.

Low Vision Exams 

The low vision exam consists of an extensive functional history as well as a detailed assessment of a glasses prescription. Once completed, the doctor helps determine what other devices or strategies will be most helpful for the patient. Devices can include, but are not limited to: 

• Strong glasses for specific tasks 
• Optical magnifiers 
• Telescopes
• Electronic magnifying systems 
• Computer/cell phone accessibility
• Lighting for tasks

In addition, low-vision clinics educate patients about community resources, mobility training, and transportation access.

Age-related diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, and complications from diabetes affect many people seeking low vision services. But low-vision clinics also serve young people with various vision needs. Each eye condition affects vision uniquely. This can limit a person’s ability to see faces, read small print, and walk or drive safely. For these reasons, low vision exams are very individualized to a patient’s specific needs and goals. Low-vision exams are especially important as students prepare to transition to college, career, and community after high. Low-vision tools empower youth with low vision to access work and the community independently.

Low Vision Tools and Solutions

If you or someone you know is diagnosed with vision loss, there are services and products available to help support an independent lifestyle. Electronic magnifiers are one category of products. There are many different electronic magnifiers. Some are handheld and small enough to fit in your pocket, while others are designed for placement on a desk or table. 

Digital Handheld Magnifiers

hand held magnifier magnifying a newspaper
Handheld magnifier magnifying a pill bottle

Handheld magnifiers generally come equipped with a screen measuring 5 to 8 inches. They can magnify objects up to 30 times and display text in contrasting colors for easier reading. 

Portable video magnifier

Portable Video Magnifiers

At 16 inches or more, portable video magnifiers are a little larger than hand-held devices. They are foldable for carrying. With the added size, portable video magnifiers can also include more functions. Some of those functions include optical character recognition (OCR) and text-to-speech (TTS) technologies that convert printed words into speech. They can also have the capacity to view objects across a room.