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Beyond 20/20: What Does ‘Healthy Vision’ Really Mean?

Beyond 20/20: What Does ‘Healthy Vision’ Really Mean?

Picture this: everywhere you look, you see vivid detail. Even the finest print is crisp and the most distant horizon is as clear as a summer sky. It’s this kind of perfection that we often associate with 20/20 vision, a phrase that’s become synonymous with healthy eyesight.

But here’s the twist: our eyesight is actually far more intricate than a simple numbers game. In fact, this measure is only one of many indications that can give us insight into the health of our vision. Keep reading to find out what it truly means to see well, and why healthy sight is a remarkable gift.  

What does 20/20 vision mean?

The term “20/20 vision” is widely understood as a benchmark for perfect, healthy vision. It originally derived from the popular Snellen eye chart, developed by Dutch ophthalmologist Herman Snellen in the 1860s. The first number represents the distance at which your eye is being tested. The second number indicates the average distance at which a person with normal vision can read the same line on the chart.

This means that if you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what a person with normal vision can also see clearly at 20 feet. If your vision is determined to be 20/40, it means you need to be at 20 feet to see clearly what someone with normal vision can see from 40 feet away.

How common is 20/20 vision?

It turns out that while most of us associate 20/20 vision with the benchmark we should all be hoping to have, very few of us actually enjoy this kind of clear vision, at least without corrective lenses. In fact, Statistics Canada has consolidated information indicating that as few as 7 out of 10 Canadian youth have 20/20 vision uncorrected, while fewer than half of Canadian adults meet this standard. So if you’ve been told that your vision isn’t 20/20, rest assured that you’re in good company.

What factors affect our vision?

Interestingly, chasing the 20/20 vision standard isn’t universally easy to do. Our age has a big impact on our vision, with advancing age often contributing to deteriorating vision and other eye health concerns. 

Even your sex affects how likely you are to have 20/20 vision. More women than men require corrective eyewear to overcome issues with imperfect vision.

So why do these numbers matter?

The numbers probably don’t matter as much as most of us think they do. They’re specifically a measure of visual acuity, or our ability to see things clearly at a specific distance. Healthy vision encompasses so much more than this.

Our visual acuity enables us to see clearly and sharply, so we can enjoy various activities without visual discomfort or strain. However, healthy vision also means ensuring that our eyes are comfortable and free from symptoms like dryness, itching, burning, or excessive tearing. It requires preserving the overall health of your eyes by preventing eye diseases and managing conditions like glaucoma and cataracts. It even means making sure you’re perceiving colours accurately. 

Having 20/20 vision alone doesn’t mean that your vision is healthy or optimal across all of these measures—there’s much more to this incredible gift. Measuring visual acuity is just one of the things we do during a comprehensive eye examination. By having your eyes checked regularly, you’ll be able to track any changes in your visual acuity but also identify early indications of eye conditions and vision problems that may develop without any symptoms at all.

Prioritizing overall eye health

While finding out that your vision is 20/20 might feel like you’ve aced a test, it turns out that it’s not the full story on your eye health. In the same way, 20/40 vision doesn’t need to feel as concerning as it might, once you understand that ‘imperfect’ visual acuity is actually quite common and typically easily corrected with prescriptive eyewear.

More importantly, seeing an optometrist or highly trained eye care professional regularly is actually a far better way to prioritize your overall eye health. Their assessments reach far beyond just visual acuity, but also encompass other aspects of eye health and vision. This will allow you to identify and address any potential problems early.

And the good news is that even if you’re told that you have myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), astigmatism, or presbyopia (age-related vision changes), these are all fairly common and relatively easy to correct. By no means do any of these indicate that you won’t still be able to enjoy overall healthy vision for years to come.

Adding up the numbers

While 20/20 vision is still considered the ideal, it doesn’t add up to the only measure of healthy vision. In actuality, what really counts is seeing your optometrist regularly, which provides the best defence against vision problems and eye conditions. No matter what the numbers say, you can’t put a price on vision, and safeguarding it with routine eye care is a solid investment in your overall well-being and quality of life.