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What is 20/20 Vision?

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Have you ever heard the expression, 20/20 vision, and wondered what these numbers mean? 

It's about distance
In short, 20/20 is a reference to your visual acuity. But more specifically, it relates to your vision at certain distances. 

In 1862, the Dutch Ophthalmologist Herman Snellen created the now well-recognised Snellen Chart:

Herman Snellen
Herman Snellen: creator of the Snellen Chart, which underpins the 20/20 measurement.

Snellan Chart
The Snellen Chart: the test that you can't study for!


The Snellen Chart and accompanying standardised tests required that patients stand 6 metres, or 20 feet away from the chart with one eye covered, to assess the vision of the eye of the beholder. The '20' in the 20 feet of distance is where the 20 in 20/20 is derived from. With this in mind, although the term has currency in Australian vernacular, given that we utilise the metric (metres) instead of the imperial (feet), you could say that the reference should more relevantly be called the 6/6 test. But of course 20/20 has a nicer ring to it. 


20/20 is not perfect
While 20/20 has been popularised as the apex of visual acuity, in reality it is actually possible to score better than 20/20 on such a test. On most Snellen charts, if you are able to confidently distinguish letters on the bottom row (without cheating or memorising!), then you would likely have a 20/10 visual acuity which would assess your eyesight as being twice as sharp as someone with 20/20. 


Why 20/20 is not everything
Let's face it: even if you have 20/20 (or 20/10!) vision, that doesn't mean that your eyesight is perfect. While sharpness of vision is arguably among - if not the - most important, there are of course other factors which contribute to your visual outcomes and overall quality of life. 

Factors such as good peripheral vision in your extended visual field can save you from danger on a daily basis, the ability to differentiate the colour spectrum versus those who are colour-blind, and also the underlying health of your eyes and surrounding tissue and vessels is arguably just as important towards seeing the world, and appreciating what you see.

And most important of all, don't be disheartened when you hear someone bragging about their 'perfect' vision. Remember: even those fortunate enough to have 20/20 vision don't always notice or pay attention to the right things, even if they can see them! 

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