Can You Have Better than 20/20 Vision?

January 2, 2020

written by Dr. Jeffrey Lewis Featured OD in ASCO’s Optometry Gives Me Life campaign

Your eyes are one of the most important sensory organs in your body. In fact, there’s a very high chance that you are using your eyes to read this right now! However, most people, when asked, won’t know what 20/20 vision is or what it means for them. On top of that, they often ask if they can have “better than perfect” vision.

What is 20/20 Vision?

No, it’s not talking about your new 2020 New Year’s glasses. 20/20 vision is a term that simply states “average” eyesight. Let’s break it down. The first 20 is how far, in feet, someone stands from an eye chat to take a test. In this case, we’re talking about those old eye charts you’ve seen in movies. However, they’re not often used anymore.

The second number, in this case, another 20, represents what you see in comparison to the average person when you stand at 20 feet. That’s why numbers like 20/20, 20/10, and 20/50 can exist.

How is 20/10 different than 20/50?

Let’s start with 20/10 – this number means that when you stand at 20 feet, you see what the average person could see when standing at ten feet. This is what “better than perfect” vision means. While the average person could see some at 20 feet, you can see much more.

On the other hand, if you have 20/50 vision, that means you have much worse than normal vision. If you are standing at 20 feet with 20/50 vision, then what you see is what an average person would see standing at 50 feet from the poster.

What is “Perfect” Vision?

While 20/20 vision is considered to be perfect, it’s not actually what we think of as perfect. Many people, mostly children, have better than 20/20 vision. Healthy eyes can easily go down to the 20/15 level with some accuracy. So then, what is perfect?

In truth, nothing that the human eye can achieve – and possibly nothing at all. Though it might sound strange, we have perfectly average eyes, and some people have a bit better than average.

On top of this, eyes have evolved to serve the purpose that the animal needs. For example, hawks, cats, dragonflies, goats, and even mantis shrimp can all see “better” than humans can in some way.

However, we can also see better than them in other ways. For example, cats can see long distances but not very short distances. All this is to say, your vision, based on genetics and environmental factors, can be better than 20/20 without a problem, it’s just not “better than perfect” or even “perfect.”

Don’t Forget Regular Checkups!

No matter what your vision, your eyes should still be checked on a regular basis. Though many wait to see a Doctor of Optometry until they think something is wrong, you should actually be going to the doctor at least once a year!