What is legal blindness?

By Brett Abney, O.D. - Abney & Amstutz Eye Centers

Not all eye diseases lead to the unfortunate stage of legal blindness. Legal blindness is characterized by having central vision of 20/200, or worse, in the better-seeing eye with the best correction, or a visual field of 20 degrees or less in the better eye.

Many folks forget about the “with best correction” part of the definition. Many people have 20/200 vision or worse without glasses or contacts. But if glasses or contacts improve the vision to better than 20/200, they are not legally blind. Only when glasses or contacts cannot improve vision to better than 20/200 is the definition of legal blindness met. As for the second part of the definition concerning a visual field of 20 degrees or less, consider reading the newspaper or looking at the stars through something similar in size to a straw.

There are many unfortunate causes for vision problems leading to legal blindness. Macular degeneration is one of the most common. This condition affects the central vision but doesn’t always lead to legal blindness. Many people lead very fulfilling lives while living with macular degeneration, as long as they are following the care and directions of their eye doctors. The key is proper diagnosis and treatment.

Glaucoma is an example of an eye disease that restricts the visual field of individuals. It involves the loss of retinal nerve fibers leading to the optic nerves. In most cases, glaucoma can be effectively managed using eye drops prescribed by a doctor. In some cases, surgery is needed to lower the eye pressure to protect vision loss. The tricky thing about glaucoma is that patients rarely have symptoms until the disease is far progressed. This means that yearly eye exams are very important to catch the disease early and treatment can be started immediately.

Other eye conditions like cataracts and diabetic retinopathy, and many others, can reduce vision.

Be sure to see your eye doctor for comprehensive eye examinations so you can preserve, protect and enhance your vision for a lifetime.


By Brett Abney, O.D.

Abney & Amstutz Eye Centers

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