Healthy body

Low vision explained

Low vision (visual impairment) is when your sight can't be corrected with glasses or contact lenses, or by any medical or surgical treatment.

Low vision is more common in older people. The most common cause is age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

While low vision can't be cured, there's plenty of support available to help you carry on living a full life.

Signs of vision loss

Any sight loss should be checked by an optometrist. Signs that you need to seek help include:

  • colours look a bit washed out
  • you're finding it difficult to judge the depth of steps or kerbs 
  • straight lines look wobbly (this is a sign of AMD)
  • you find it hard to read, even with glasses or contact lenses
  • difficulty driving at night

See others signs of sight loss (PDF, 121kb).

It's important not to simply wait for these signs to appear. Ideally you should see an optometrist about every two years.

Lots of people are entitled to free eye tests, so find out if you're eligible for free eye care.

What NHS support is available for low vision?

A visit to the opticians is a good place to start. If they find a problem, you'll be referred to hospital to see an ophthalmologist (eye doctor).

Your GP will be kept informed, and will give you extra support and advice if you need it.

If the eye doctor finds that your vision can't be improved by glasses or contact lenses, or medical or surgical treatment, you may be referred to a low-vision clinic.

At the clinic, staff can advise you about managing at home, getting out and about and help with reading and writing.

They will also assess you to see if you are eligible to be registered as partially sighted or blind.

See how get yourself certified as partially sighted.

To qualify for partial sight or blind certification you must have loss of vision in both eyes, not just one eye.

Being told you have low vision can be a shock, but help is available from your eye clinic, GP and organisations like the RNIB.

See more about blindness and vision loss.

Page last reviewed: Mon Jun 2017 Next review due: Fri Jun 2020

NHS Attribution