Can Vision Be Better Than 20/20?
In the U.S., 20/40 vision with LASIK or corrective lenses is the baseline requirement for an unrestricted driver’s license. If you cannot achieve 20/40 vision with glasses, contact lenses, or refractive surgery, then your visual acuity puts you at risk of an accident. People who have 20/200 vision with corrective lenses are considered legally blind.
Often, children or young adults with healthy eyes have better than 20/20 vision. Many children have 20/15 vision unless they have a congenital eye condition or a refractive error that has begun its progression.
It is also possible that more people test with 20/20, 20/15, and even 20/10 vision because printing technology has improved since the Snellen chart was developed in the 19th century. The smallest letters at the bottom of the chart are smaller than the original Snellen charts, and they have sharper printed edges. This means that optometrists can measure vision sharpness better.
If you have a refractive error that leads to poor distance vision, there are some approaches you can take to getting better vision. These may lead to visual acuity better than 20/20 vision.
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Since the invention of the Snellen eye chart, 20/20 vision has been considered the standard of perfect, clear eyesight. (Learn More) However, there are several ways to understand good eyesight, and seeing objects clearly at 20 feet away is only one measurement.
It is possible to naturally have vision that is better than 20/20. Young people with healthy eyes often have 20/15 or 20/10 sight.
Improvements to printing technology and visual acuity measurements make diagnosing sharper vision more likely in modern times, so more people may have better vision than previously estimated. (Learn More)
If you want vision better than 20/20, it is possible through LASIK surgery, but doctors who perform laser surgeries do not aim for sharper than 20/20 sight. They aim for visual acuity between 20/20 and 20/40. (Learn More)
Technological improvements may make sharp vision easier to get in the future. (Learn More)
What Is 20/20 Vision? Is It Perfect Eyesight?
Most people believe that 20/20 vision, which is a measurement of visual acuity or clarity of vision at a distance, is “perfect.” However, this measurement is only one of several ways to understand good or great vision and one way for optometrists and ophthalmologists to diagnose and treat vision problems.
The measurement of 20/20 vision in the United States means that you can see letters on the Snellen eye chart clearly from 20 feet away. People who have slight refractive errors, or problems like nearsightedness or farsightedness, may see the Snellen chart differently. For example, someone with 20/30 vision sees letters on the Snellen chart at 20 feet that someone with good visual acuity would see at 30 feet. In countries that use the metric system of measurements, the Snellen chart is placed six meters away, so visual acuity is measured 6/6.
If the standard measurement of visual acuity is 20 feet from the Snellen chart, can someone potentially see better than 20/20? Yes, it is possible to see 20/15 or 20/10, meaning that your vision is sharp enough that you can see at 20 feet what a person with 20/20 vision could see at 10 feet or 15 feet.
The goal of corrective eye wear, like glasses and contact lenses, is to bring vision within 20/20 to 20/40. Similarly, the goal of refractive surgeries like LASIK is to bring vision into a range of 20/20 or 20/40.
With all these forms of visual correction, it is possible to “overcorrect,” or make vision better than 20/20.
Can You Improve Your Vision to Better Than 20/20?
LASIK — laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis — is a type of surgery that uses a guided laser to change the size or shape of your cornea to correct a refractive error. Refractive errors are nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia or presbyopia), and astigmatism. These change how light hits the retina because of the cornea’s shape, so using a laser to reshape this surface organ in the eye improves visual acuity.
Most people who undergo LASIK surgery have a refractive error high enough that they are tired of the inconvenience of glasses and contact lenses. Maybe they have lived with these corrective options for years, and they do not want to worry about updating their prescription or having to wear something all day to see well.
LASIK may be covered in part by insurance for people who have refractive errors; however, the goal of the procedure is to get vision within legal driving parameters, so about 20/40 vision or better. Doctors who perform LASIK typically do not aim for better than 20/20 vision.
If you are interested in achieving vision that is greater than 20/20, your vision insurance will not cover this elective procedure.
Sometimes, better than 20/20 vision can happen as a side effect of LASIK by accident. This is considered overcorrection.
Some eye surgeons are experimenting with overcorrection (correcting vision to better than 20/20), as one step in a longer process of correcting the eyesight of people with hyperopia, or farsightedness. Hyperopia means the person can see clearly in the distance but has trouble seeing objects or printed words closer to their face. By overcorrecting the hyperopia to a little myopia and then performing a follow-up myopia correction, some laser surgeons find that they can improve their patients’ original farsightedness to 20/20 vision.
Technology May Help Visual Acuity in the Future
Some companies are pushing for prosthetics or even bionic eyes that can bring visual acuity to better than 20/20. The Ocumetics Technology Corporation is one of the businesses working on a Bionic Lens that can replace the natural lens inside the eye. It would treat several conditions like astigmatism or cataracts. It can refract light onto the retina so that vision clarity is better than 20/20, and it may approach 20/10 in most cases.
This type of technology is only just beginning its development, and there are currently no trials on human subjects. For now, improving visual acuity requires artificial lenses like glasses or contact lenses, or changes to the shape of the cornea or lens through surgery.
Vision to 20/20 and Beyond
While achieving between 20/20 and 20/40 vision is the goal of many optometrists and ophthalmologists, it is not the only part of vision that is important.
Good peripheral vision, clear central vision, and no blind spots are all important, and testing these requires different tests than just the Snellen eye chart. If you feel like your vision is not clear enough or you have problems seeing, but testing with a Snellen chart does not detect a refractive error, work with your optometrist or ophthalmologist to see if there are higher-order aberrations (HOAs) that may be causing your vision issues.
Many visual problems involve changes to distance vision as one symptom. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist will ask you questions about your vision to determine if there may be another cause, aside from a refractive error, that may lead to these changes.
What Does 20/20 Vision Mean? (November 30, 2016). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Visual Acuity: What Is 20/20 Vision? American Optometric Association (AOA).
Visual Acuity: Is “20/20” Perfect Vision? (December 2018). All About Vision.
The LASIK Procedure: A Complete Guide. (May 2018). All About Vision.
LASIK Risks and Complications. (August 20, 2018). All About Vision.
When You Should Overcorrect a Patient. (September 2, 2010). Review of Ophthalmology.
The Bionic Lens Could Push Eyesight Beyond 20/20 Vision. (September 3, 2017). Futurism.