Better Than 20/20 Vision?

Dr. Matthew Sharpe- Founder of SharpeVision

By Dr. Matthew R. Sharpe

August 18, 2021

Better than 20/20 vision?

Is it true? Is it possible? Absolutely! In fact, most healthy people are capable of better than 20/20 vision . If you are capable of seeing 20/15 with glasses, then there is a 98% chance we can get you seeing that without glasses at SharpeVision through laser vision correction. Of the other 2%, they may either not be capable of 20/15 vision in the first place, or they need an enhancement to get to see 20/15.

What is 20/20 vision as compared with 20/15 vision?

Sometimes people incorrectly write it as: “Can you have better than 20 20 vision?” The questions: “What is better than 20 20 vision?” or “Is 20 15 better than 20 20?” come up often in my daily practice of refractive surgery. It should be expressed as a fraction of 20 feet over some other number of feet. The fact is that vision better than 20/20 is achieved in over 75% of our patients who undergo vision correction at SharpeVision. The majority of people have heard of 20/20 vision, but in reality, most people are capable of better than 20/20 vision

The concept of 20/20 vision (and therefore better than 20/20 vision) started 159 years ago in 1862 when Dr. Herman Snellen from the Netherlands developed his eponymous chart. He finally decided on using letters instead of other symbols. 20/20 vision was just the average, and some people will see better than 20/20 or even better than 20/15 vision on the vision chart. The Big ”E” won the contest to sit at the top of the chart and has been there ever since. At SharpeVision, we never trot out the big E, because it represents 20/400 vision, and although our patients often can’t see that before LASIK, we use the tiny letters to measure vision after LASIK. Toward the bottom of the chart sit the hard working 20/20 letters which are most commonly t,z,v,e,c, and l.

“What most people may not realize is that there are even smaller letters below the 20/20 line. 20/15 is what most of our patients are capable of after LASIK, and 20/10 lines which are about as small of letters as anyone is capable of seeing (with extremely rare exceptions).” 

Often my patients aren’t sure if 20/20 or 20/15 is better. One way to remember is to think “you first.” What I mean by that is that if you think:

  • You are the first number 20, and you always stand 20 feet from the vision chart. Your feet are planted there. Don’t move!
  • Someone else is the second number. They can move closer or farther away from the vision chart. They are the second number.
  • The second person has average vision, so has 20/20 vision.
  • You find the line on the chart that is as small as you can possibly read.
  • If the second person has to move to 15 feet away to see the smallest line you could see, then you have 20/15 vision, which is slightly better than average.
  • If the second person moves to 40 feet away and can still see the smallest line you can see, then you have 20/40 vision, which is worse than average.

It’s estimated that the limit of human vision is theoretically limited to about 20/5 vision, but I’ve never seen this in my clinical practice. If I have a patient who easily sees the 20/10 line, which only happens a few times a year, I move them back even further to see what they can see, since our vision charts only go to 20/10 letter size. Sometimes people will say that the 20/15 line is “like dots” which just means they have reached the limit of their vision, but it’s better than 20/20 vision.

Outside the United States visual acuity measurement is expressed in meters, not feet. In France therefore, 20/20 vision is called 6/6, which is almost the same since 6 meters is 19.685 feet. In Asia, 20/20 is generally denoted as 1.0, since the fraction 20/20 equals 1.0. Therefore 20/40 would be 0.5, and worse than 1.0. 20/15 visual acuity would be expressed as 1.33, which is better than 20/20. The higher numbers represent better vision.

Is 20/20 vision the best?

No way! There are people (probably about 3% of the population) who are capable of 20/10 vision. It is reported that WWII fighter pilot ace and test pilot Chuck Yeager (who passed away in 2020 at age 97) had 20/8 vision. He could see enemy fighters coming from up to 50 miles away.

Better than 20/20 vision?

The general population in the United States is capable of 20/15 vision about two-thirds of the time, which is better vision than 20/20. What’s better than 20/20 vision? On most vision charts from go0d to best, it’s: 20/20, 20/15, (sometimes 20/12) and then 20/10.

Is 20/20 the best vision?

Not always! There are many reasons why someone may not have 20/20 vision on a vision chart. The most common one is that they have “refractive error” which simply means they’re not wearing their glasses, contacts, or they haven’t had the SharpeVision procedure of LASIK, PRK, ICL, RLE or cataract surgery to give them clear vision without needing glasses or contacts. The most common reasons why someone can’t see the 20/20 line on the vision chart are: cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and ocular surface abnormalities, such as dryness.

Do animals have 20/20 vision?

Animals can have many times better vision than humans. I read once that raptors (birds of prey) may theoretically have 20/2 vision, which means that they could see at 200 feet what you could see at 20 feet. Pretty much need that to see a mouse when you’re flying overhead. There is much more to vision than just acuity however. There is night-vision (think of owls and lemurs), field of vision (prey animals like horses, goats can see nearly all the way around their heads, but don’t have great acuity), stereoscopic vision, depth perception (which is different than stereoscopic vision), contrast sensitivity, color vision, and more. All of which go into making our visual systems miraculous.

I am thrilled when we get our patients seeing better than 20/20, and it happens for nearly everyone who comes to SharpeVision for vision correction. At SharpeVision, we are making glasses a thing of the past. Getting better than 20/20 vision without glasses is awesome. Schedule now for your free comprehensive exam ASAP!

Dr. Matthew Sharpe- Founder of SharpeVision

Dr. Matthew R. Sharpe

Dr. Matthew Sharpe is an Ophthalmologist specializing in refractive surgery and the owner SharpeVision MODERN LASIK & LENS, with offices in Seattle, Austin, and Chicago. Dr. Sharpe is a world traveler, pianist, marathon runner, motorcyclist, and fluent French speaker. He enjoys every second of life, but finds he is happiest at home cheering on The Ohio State Buckeyes with his wife, three children, and four dogs.
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