What is a Low Vision Exam?

A low vision examination is performed by an optometrist — usually a low-vision specialist — to help you see better when regular eye glasses are no longer effective.  Magnification devices and other optical aids are prescribed to help you see print and other objects.

How does a low vision doctor help me see better?

A low vision doctor will work with you to make the most of your vision by using a variety of magnification devices.  These devices include:

  • Magnification glasses
  • Hand-held magnifiers
  • Stand magnifiers
  • Telemicroscopes (telescopes adapted for near)
  • Video magnifiers (closed circuit televisions)

The low vision doctor will determine the proper amount of magnification (power) you need for your visual goals and show you what is available.

To magnify for distance, telescopes may be recommended.  Telescopes can be used as hand-held devices or mounted onto glasses.  Some telescopes also include video magnification or automatic focusing.

The low vision doctor may also use prisms, mirrors or reverse telescopes to enhance your visual field or side vision.

The low vision doctor may also experiment with filters to help with glare control and to increase contrast, making objects easier to see.

How is a low vision exam different from a standard eye exam?

The low vision doctor should do a brief health examination of the eyes, but usually does not use eye drops or dilate your eyes.  In a normal eye examination, you are typically asked to read the Snellen chart, a chart that is projected onto the wall.  A low vision doctor will generally use portable eye charts.  These charts are usually used at a distance of 10 feet, but can be moved closer if needed.  Eye charts a low vision doctor uses include letters, numbers and sentences.

Refraction is the process of determining the right glasses for an individual.  In a standard eye exam, this is done behind an instrument called a phoropter.  In a low vision exam, the doctor will use what is called a trial frame, which fits right on the face like a pair of glasses.

In addition to measuring your visual acuity on the eye chart, the low vision doctor is interested in other measures of your visual function.  A low vision doctor will be interested in finding information about your ability to perceive colors, contrast and the extent of your visual field.

In addition to all the standard questions you are asked during an exam, the low vision doctor may also ask about the following:

  • Is your vision blurry at near, intermediate or distance?
  • Do you see distortions in your vision?
  • Does the glare from inside lights or sunlight cause you discomfort?
  • Do you have trouble going from light to dark or dark to light?
  • Do you have problems with your side vision?
  • Do you have problems with your color vision?
  • Can you read or see things that are low in contrast?
  • Do you have problems seeing faces?
  • What size print can you read?
  • Do you go places by yourself?
  • Are you comfortable traveling at night or in unfamiliar places by yourself?
  • Do you live alone?
  • Can you cook and clean for yourself?
  • Can you read your daily mail and write checks?
  • Are you having trouble at work or school because of your vision?
  • What have you stopped doing because of a decrease in your vision?

What other services can my low vision doctor provide?

A low vision doctor should show you how to use each prescribed magnification device.  The low vision doctor may, however, refer you to a low vision or vision rehabilitation therapist for this training.  Proper training is important for you to use these devices successfully.

Your low vision doctor can also refer you to other vision rehabilitation training with a certified vision rehabilitation therapist.  You may also ask about other resources and training opportunities including:

  • Orientation and mobility instruction
  • Special education services
  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Support groups
  • Local and national organizations that serve people with vision loss
  • Social worker
  • Counselor
  • Adaptive technology specialist