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Blindness and low vision

Girl with bad vision wearing glasses.

It’s pretty unusual, but kids sometimes lose all or some of their ability to see. Sometimes, although it’s also unusual, they are born not able to see well — or able to see at all.

If you can’t see as well as you’d like, you know it can be tough at times. You also probably know that you don’t have to see to do lots of things, including read great books, swim laps, or even hike the Grand Canyon! Read on to learn about talking computers, guide dogs, and more.  

What is vision loss? arrow top

If you have vision loss — also called visual impairment or low vision — it means that you have trouble seeing even with help such as glasses, contact lenses, or medication. Different people have different types and amounts of vision loss. For example, you might not be able to see anything very clearly, but have a pretty wide range from left to right. Someone else might see things in front of them very clearly, but not be able to see things that are off to the left or the right.

Have you heard the term “legally blind”? It’s a measure that the government uses to decide if you can get certain kinds of help, like help in school. It’s based on how close you have to get to things to see them.

What causes vision loss? arrow top

Vision loss has several possible causes, including:

  • Being born blind because of genes
  • Being born prematurely and other problems that stop the eye from developing normally
  • Damage to the eye from an accident
  • The brain not being able to process information that comes in through the eyes

Can vision loss be cured? arrow top

Some vision problems get better, but others don’t. Sometimes, glasses can help, or you might need surgery. Often, getting treatment early leads to better results. If you think you’re having vision problems or if you get a lot of headaches, tell your parent or guardian. You may need a checkup with an ophthalmologist (say: op-thuh-MA-luh-jist), a doctor who specializes in eyes.

Preventing vision problems arrow top

Taking good care of your eyes may help prevent problems. Follow some basic tips:

  • Wear sunglasses with UV protection to guard against sun damage.
  • Wear goggles during risky activities, like certain sports or when mixing stuff in lab class.
  • Avoid nasty infections by following instructions for contact lenses if you wear them.
  • Ask your doctor how often you need eye exams.

Living well with vision loss arrow top

People with serious vision loss can lead extremely successful lives. Just think about what people like musician Stevie Wonder, painter Claude Monet, and Olympic athlete Marla Runyon have achieved!

If you have serious vision loss, you might need some special help with schoolwork. You might attend a special school, but often kids get some extra support within a regular school. There are tons of great tools you can use, from computer programs that read text out loud to ones that type what you say. Then there are Braille books you read with your fingers and machines that turn regular text into Braille’s tiny dots.

Teens who are blind also can learn great skills for getting around and taking care of themselves. Using a cane can tell you if anything — or anyone — is in your way. And little tricks can make it easier to do daily tasks like identifying money, picking out clothes, and fixing your hair.

With a little help, you can even go out for a jog or swim laps. Special equipment like balls with bells in them make lots of sports possible too. Check out videos to learn about blind athletes excelling in judo, skiing, and more.

Guide dogs

If you’re blind or have low vision, a service dog may be a great guide — and friend.

 

Content last reviewed February 16, 2011
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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