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Overview of low vision & blindness

Tirohanga whānui ki te tirohanga pōhara

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Low vision is an eyesight problem that makes it hard to do everyday activities, and can’t be fixed with glasses, contact lenses, or other standard treatments like medicine or surgery.

In New Zealand, you're considered legally blind if you can’t see at six metres what someone with normal vision can see at 60 metres. You are also legally blind if your field of vision (how wide you can see things when looking straight ahead) is 20º or less. A person with normal vision can see 180º.

People who are legally blind may have some useful vision.

There are several types of low vision, determined by the disease or condition that caused your low vision. The most common types of low vision are:

Causes of low vision and blindness

Low vision and blindness can be caused by conditions that only affect your eye or affect your whole body. These conditions include:

Symptoms of low vision and blindness

You may have low vision if you can’t see well enough to do things like:

Diagnosing low vision and blindness

If you notice any changes in your vision or are concerned about your eyesight, see your optometrist, general practice team or ophthalmologist (specialist eye doctor).

They will ask you questions about your vision and perform an eye examination.

Treating low vision and blindness

The treatment depends on the cause of your low vision or blindness. Some conditions such as diabetic retinopathy can be treated by laser or eye surgery to restore and improve your vision.

Conditions such as age-related macular degeneration cannot be cured but there are vision aids to help you do tasks, and treatments to help prevent further loss of vision.

There are details on what help is available and ways you can manage with low vision on the next pages in this section.

Preventing low vision and blindness

It's important to have regular eye examinations so any eye problems you develop are diagnosed early. This means the problem can be treated as soon as possible.

Have an eye examination every two years after the age of 40, unless your optometrist or ophthalmologist suggests otherwise. After 65, you may have them more often, so your optometrist can diagnose and treat any sight-threatening conditions, such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) as soon as possible.

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On the next page: Getting help for low vision & blindness

Written by Canterbury optometrists. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed March 2023.

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