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What is normal eyesight?

Having normal vision or eyesight means being able to see clearly and comfortably at both near and far distances. But what exactly constitutes normal vision? And how can you tell if your eyesight falls within the normal range? This article provides an in-depth look at what defines normal vision, the requirements for normal eyesight, common eye conditions that affect vision, and how to get your eyes checked.

What is Normal Visual Acuity?

Visual acuity refers to the clarity or sharpness of vision when looking at an object. It is measured by the smallest letters you can read on an eye chart placed 20 feet away. Normal visual acuity is considered 20/20 vision based on the 20/20 scale used by optometrists and ophthalmologists. This means that a person with 20/20 vision can see clearly at 20 feet what a person with normal eyesight can see at that distance.

Here’s a quick rundown of what the 20/20 scale means:

  • The first number refers to the distance you stand from the eye chart.
  • The second number indicates the distance at which a person with normal vision could read the same line you correctly read.
  • 20/20 vision means you can read at 20 feet what a person with normal vision can read at 20 feet.
  • 20/40 vision means you must stand at 20 feet to read what a person with normal vision can read from 40 feet away.

So in summary, normal visual acuity is typically defined as 20/20 vision. But some variation exists in what is considered a normal visual acuity range:

  • 20/15 to 20/25 vision is generally regarded as normal visual acuity.
  • 20/20 vision does not necessarily mean perfect vision. It indicates the eye’s ability to clearly focus on objects at a standardized distance.
  • Visual acuity of 20/40 or better is required for driving in most places. 20/40 vision means you can read at 20 feet what a person with normal vision can read from 40 feet away.

Snellen Chart for Testing Visual Acuity

Visual acuity is measured during an eye exam using a Snellen chart (eye chart with rows of letters). You stand 20 feet away from the chart and read aloud the letters you see. How much you can correctly read determines your visual acuity score.

Requirements for Normal Eyesight

Normal vision depends on all parts of the visual system working together effectively. Here are the main requirements for healthy normal eyesight:

Clear Optics of the Eye

Light enters the eye through the cornea and passes through the pupil. It then travels through the lens which focuses light onto the retina. For clear vision, all these structures must be clear and transmit light properly into the eye.

Normal Eye Shape and Focusing

The eye must have a normal rounded shape to properly focus incoming light. Common vision problems like nearsightedness (myopia) and farsightedness (hyperopia) prevent the eye from focusing correctly. Normal vision requires no focusing errors.

Healthy Retina and Optic Nerve

The retina converts light into electrical signals that travel via the optic nerve to the brain which processes them into images. Damage to the retina or optic nerve disrupts normal vision.

Normal Brain Function

Our brain interprets the signals from our eyes to create what we “see.” Visual processing problems in the brain can affect eyesight even when the eyes themselves are healthy.

In summary, normal vision requires a properly functioning visual system from the optics of the eye to the visual processing centers of the brain.

Common Eye Conditions Affecting Vision

Many eye diseases and conditions can impair normal eyesight. Here are some of the most common that keep people from having 20/20 vision:

Refractive Errors

Refractive errors like nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism mean the eye cannot properly focus light. They are the most common vision problems and easily correctable with eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Type Description
Nearsightedness (myopia) Difficulty seeing distant objects clearly. Light focuses in front of the retina.
Farsightedness (hyperopia) Difficulty focusing on near objects. Light focuses behind the retina.
Astigmatism Blurry vision from an irregularly shaped cornea preventing proper focus.


Age-related natural loss of near focusing ability. Onset usually in the 40s. Corrected with bifocals or reading glasses.

Amblyopia (Lazy Eye)

Poor vision in an eye that did not develop normal sight during childhood. Often treated early with an eye patch over the strong eye.

Strabismus (Crossed eyes)

Eyes are misaligned due to imbalance in the eye muscles. Can cause double vision, depth perception problems, and amblyopia.


Clouding of the eye’s lens causing blurry and hazy vision. Treated by surgical removal of the lens and placement of an artificial lens implant.


Optic nerve damage from increased eye pressure. Causes vision loss beginning with peripheral vision loss.

Macular Degeneration

Damage to the retina’s macula and loss of central vision. Age-related version is most common.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Retinal damage caused by diabetes. Leads to blotchy vision, floaters, and blindness if untreated.

Getting Your Eyes Examined

Since many eye and vision problems have no obvious symptoms, getting regular comprehensive eye exams is essential for maintaining good eyesight and eye health over your lifetime. Here are some general guidelines on eye exam frequency:

  • Children should have an initial eye assessment between 6-12 months of age to check for amblyopia, misaligned eyes, and refractive errors. Regular exams every 1-2 years after.
  • Adults with no vision problems or risk factors should have a baseline exam at age 40, then exams every 2-4 years.
  • People with risk factors like diabetes, family eye disease history, previous eye conditions, or taking medications with eye effects should have annual exams.
  • Those with diagnosed eye disease may need exams more frequently depending on the condition.

A comprehensive eye exam checks your vision clarity, eye alignment, eye health inside and out, depth perception, and how your eyes work together. If you need vision correction, your prescription will be determined during the exam.

What to Expect During the Exam

Here is a general outline of what happens during an eye exam:

  • Visual acuity test with Snellen chart
  • Refraction to determine prescription needed
  • Pupil dilation with eye drops
  • Examination of the eyes’ external, internal, and retinal health
  • Tonometry to measure eye pressure for glaucoma detection
  • Depth perception, color vision, and eye coordination tests
  • Review of exam results and recommended treatments

Based on your age, risk factors, and exam findings, additional tests for glaucoma or macular degeneration may be performed.


Normal eyesight provides clear, comfortable vision at all distances without needing to strain or squint. For most people, normal visual acuity falls around 20/20 vision as measured on the standardized Snellen eye chart during an eye exam. But some variation exists in the visual acuity range classified as normal vision.

Maintaining good eyesight requires having healthy eyes that transmit and focus light properly, a normal-functioning retina, and intact visual processing in the brain. Many common eye diseases like cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration interfere with normal vision. Getting regular comprehensive eye exams is essential for early detection and treatment of vision problems before they seriously impact your eyesight.