FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Vision impairment — including low vision — affects millions of Americans, according to the National Eye Institute. During Low Vision Awareness Month, General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital’s Optometry Clinic staff want to highlight what qualifies as low vision, symptoms to be aware of, who the disease affects and available resources for assistance.
According to Capt. Michael Goering, a staff optometrist here, low vision is a condition caused by eye disease where one’s visual acuity is 20/70 or worse in the better-seeing eye and cannot be corrected or improved with regular glasses.
“So, when someone is struggling to see — and their vision is not correctable to a certain standard — that qualifies as low vision,” he said.
Goering added low vision is diagnosed through an eye exam.
“If someone doesn’t see 20/20, then we always look to find a reason why,” he said. “Some things could be cataracts, where they’re still correctable most of the time, but some things are more severe — macular degeneration, advanced diabetes or glaucoma — which would classify them as low vision.”
Macular degeneration is one of the most common and recognizable types of low vision, Goering said. It most commonly occurs among the elderly, but is diagnosed in patients of all ages. An early sign to look for is lines appearing wavy or distorted.
“That’s usually the first sign of macular degeneration,” he said. “The macula is their central vision, so some patients can see a little better if they look out and around where the disease is happening.”
While low vision is not completely preventable, Goering said the chances of developing it are increased by smoking.
“Eating fresh, leafy green vegetables helps prevent that as well,” he said.
Goering recommended getting an annual eye exam.
“Unfortunately, what often happens is people will go years without an eye exam and they don’t really notice that things are changing, but by that point, it’s kind of past the point of no return for treatment options,” he said.
Low vision is not correctable, but Goering said different approaches exist to help people cope.
“There’s a lot of counseling and emotional support that goes into it,” he said. “That’s one thing that we’re going to help them with. The other is try to give them the best vision that we can — usually with glasses. If that’s not satisfactory for them, then there are lots of different devices we can give them. Depending on the type of low vision, we can either give them a magnifier they can read with, so it’s just extra power with some lighting. We can use telescopes, little hand held telescopes they can hold over their glasses that will magnify the distant things for them. There are even electronic devices. There are different types of auto speech to text, or essentially computer screens that enlarge everything for them. Especially in the geriatric population, their hobbies often include reading, so we try to help them get the best quality of life they can, even if their vision is not as sharp as they want.”
Goering said highlighting options for low vision patients is especially important in a location like Fort Leonard Wood, where a large population of retirees live in the surrounding community. He said that he’s been stationed here just two weeks and has already seen two low vision patients.
“If you notice any changes to your vision, please come in sooner rather than later,” he said. “Low vision is not treatable, but it is manageable.”
Goering also pointed out the Veterans Administration offers low vision services.
“They have a specialist, who is trained specifically for low vision exams,” Goering said. “That’s a resource that’s available. They can also help with managing driving situations. So, if someone is low vision and doesn’t qualify for a standard driver’s license, they can sometimes get a reduced or restricted license.”
For more information on optometry services available to Tricare beneficiaries here, call the GLWACH Optometry Clinic at 573.596.0048. To learn more about low vision services available through the VA, click here.