Upon updating my eye buddies on the RD Facebook support group site following my last appointment at Moorfields, I explained that the vision in my RD eye is just about 6/36 if I use the parts of my retina which are less damaged. One of my eye buddies then commented, ‘I read with interest your comment on visual acuity and using parts of the retina which are less damaged. I’m guessing you have to move your eye around to get something into view? That’s what I need to do and wondered a few times if I’m meant to do that but never asked the question.’ I replied to confirm that this is indeed what I have to do with my RD eye, in order to get the top letters on the Snellen chart into view. I can only read the first two lines but without using this technique, I’m unable to read the second line at all and can only just about manage the top letter. I also explained that this isn’t ‘cheating’, as some people worry it might be, and that the ophthalmologist or optometrist will be able to tell that we’re doing this by the way we move our eyes when trying to read the chart. I told her that there was a proper term for the technique but I couldn’t remember what it was.
I only knew that there was an official term for it as when I had an appointment with my first surgeon at Moorfields, I guiltily confessed to her that I could only read the first letter on the chart if I didn’t look directly at it. She explained that my brain was learning to use the less damaged parts of my retina in order to read the chart, and told me the word for this technique, which I promptly forgot after receiving the unwelcome news that I’d be needing a third lot of surgery. I do, however, clearly remember her smiling at my amazed fascination at what our brains are capable of in the grim face of sight loss.
After this little online chat with my eye buddy, we both went off and did a spot of research, and reconvened with the knowledge that the proper term for the technique is ‘Eccentric Viewing’. You can find more information via the RNIB’s article ‘Understanding eccentric viewing‘. We both agreed that it seemed a strange term to use, obviously being more familiar with the meaning of the word ‘eccentric’ as ‘somewhat odd’ or ‘unconventional’. However, upon checking the Oxford English Dictionary, I found that the second listing of the word is ‘Not placed centrally or not having its axis or other part placed centrally’, so of course the term makes perfect sense for describing the technique of viewing something via a more peripheral portion of the retina, rather than using our central vision.
My eye buddy was quite surprised by all this, telling me that no-one had ever mentioned it to her before, despite the fact that she’d been registered visually impaired with no central vision for over thirteen years. We were also both surprised to discover that specialist training in eccentric viewing is available through various sight loss charities. However, as we’d both been using the technique without realising it was an Actual Thing, we figured that in time we must just learn to use what we have without training.
According to various information available online, eccentric viewing seems to be used mainly to help people with macular degeneration. The macula is the central part of the retina. It’s roughly the size of a pin head but is very important as it’s responsible for our central vision, which includes most of our colour vision and fine detail. This is why people with macular degeneration have trouble reading or recognising faces. My first retinal detachment was unfortunately rather spectacular, with the macula detaching within hours of first starting to lose sight. As a result it’s now badly damaged, and the subsequent complications, multiple detachments and surgeries haven’t helped matters. I can’t read with my RD eye and if I stand right in front of a mirror and close my good eye, I can just see a blurry distorted haze.
A month after our investigations into eccentric viewing, my eye buddy was updating the RD support group on her own recent hospital appointment, and wrote:
‘Shout out to Emma for putting me on to this. I’ve had no central vision for years and knew I moved my eyes around to view but RD in both last year has left me with a different vision and also using my right eye which had been “redundant” for 24 years. I’ve been struggling with focus and working out how to look at things when Emma put me on to something known as Eccentric Viewing. I had some scans done last week and working with the optometrist was able to discover what part of the retina was my “now natural centre”. The left pics show what should be my centre, the OCT showing the gaping hole. The right is where I move my eye naturally to view with the OCT showing I’m using a portion of unbroken retina. Was interesting stuff, now I work to keep improving.’
I found it really interesting to see her pictures and hugely encouraging to hear how she’s now developing her use of this technique to make the most of her sight. She agreed that I could use her experience and pictures in the hopes that it may help other people who come across my blog, so huge thanks to her for allowing me to do this!
For all you readers with properly working peepers, just be aware that next time you spot someone staring at something and moving their eyes all over the place like a lunatic, it may not be due to eccentricity; they could just be using eccentric viewing… 😉