Low Vision Aids: Hand Held Magnifiers

Low Vision Aids: Hand Held Magnifiers

I welcome back Dr. Chris Renner. Chris has contributed before to RetinaEyeDoctor.com. He practices locally in Northern Virginia and is an expert on Low Vision. – “Randy”

In my last column I defined low vision as visual impairment not improved by normal eyeglasses.  Low vision aids are optical devices which attempt to improve visual function.  Remember, low vision doctors can’t bring your vision back, but we can try and help you perform your favorite activities.  Today I will discuss hand magnifiers.

A hand magnifier or magnifying glass is a lens which focuses light in such a way that objects appear larger when they are viewed through the lens.  This is different than a reading microscope, which is designed to allow you to hold items of interest very close, but still be in focus.

Generally, the smaller and thicker the lens, the higher the magnification will be.  For example, a small high-powered magnifier might be noted as 10X and give magnification ten times larger than normal.  This magnifier might also be used by jewelers or others who need extremely high magnification.  A low-power magnifier, such as a 3X, will allow you to have a wider field of vision and be able to see entire words or phrases, but they won’t be as large.

A high-power magnifier will allow you to see the smallest print, but you must have very steady hands to align things perfectly.  You might have to hold your reading material and the lens close to your best eye.

Low-power magnifiers let you use both eyes at the same time, which might be an advantage.  They also allow you to see more of a line at one time, making it easier to keep your place while reading or navigate around a page.

A magnifier can be hand-held or mounted on a stand.  The stand is set directly on your reading material, and is calibrated to be at the correct distance to have the reading material in focus.  Stand-mounted magnifiers are very helpful for anyone with a tremor, or maybe limited use of their hands.   Some stand-mounted magnifiers are available on a moveable arm and can be put in any convenient position.

Some magnifiers have lights attached, ensuring proper illumination.  I prefer the battery-operated models, so that you can easily carry them around.  However, plug-in models often have brighter lighting.

Here is what I recommend:  Most patients will benefit from the hands-free and high-power features of a reading microscope.  Second, a low-power hand or stand-mounted magnifier is useful for reading at home, reading mail, paying bills, etc.  Third, many people like a small high-power hand magnifier, often on a necklace or in a breast pocket for easy access.  These three items are low-tech, relatively inexpensive and highly effective.  They are type of “starter set” for the low vision patient who is highly motivated to continue to perform as many normal activities as possible.

For my next column I will discuss spotting telescopes and reading microscopes.

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