I’m commonly asked about the best magnifying glass for macular degeneration. That’s because age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of vision loss.
Some of the key features to look out for are: quality, built in light, and the right balance between size and strength…. Unfortunately you can’t have a traditional magnifying glass that is both big AND strong… Though you can if you get an electronic magnifier. Click here to read more about electronic magnifiers.
What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD or ARMD) is a disease that affects the central part of the retina – the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eyeball. It affects the central vision which can cause problems with reading, driving and recognizing people. It doesn’t usually cause total vision loss. About 80% of people with AMD have the dry (atrophic) form, and 20% have the wet (exudative) form.
Vision with macular degeneration
There isn’t currently any cure for AMD, and no treatment for the dry form. There is some treatment for the wet form, but it doesn’t restore vision as much as patients would like.
Unfortunately, the best we can usually do at this stage, is help the patient learn to work around the problem. That is where low vision aids help.
How does a magnifying glass help someone with macular degeneration?
Even with the use of a magnifier, the person will still have a black or blurry spot in the middle of their vision. Vision aids won’t get rid of that.
A magnifying glass helps, by increasing the size of writing you want to read, so that less of the word is obscured by the spot in the central vision. This makes is easier to take an ‘educated guess’ at what you’re seeing, based on what you see in the peripheral of your vision.
The best magnifying glass for macular degeneration
Quality magnifiers have less distortion
When you buy a magnifying glass, get a good quality one. Cheaper ones can have a lot of distortion, which can cause eye strain and headaches. Someone with macular degeneration already has their central vision obscured so they need to make the most of their peripheral vision. Cheap magnifying glasses often have good focus in the center of the lens but distortion around the edges. This is particularly problematic for people with AMD, so you need to spend a bit more money for a good quality aid.
Built in light is a must, in my opinion. The light significantly increases the contrast which makes reading easier. Magnifying glasses with light will take AA or AAA batteries in the handle.
Most of the magnifiers sold through reputable low vision agencies will have this feature. If you’re going to buy a magnifying glass online make sure you get one with light. To read my reviews of magnifying glasses with light, click here.
Higher magnification isn’t necessarily better
Many people with AMD make the mistake of purchasing the strongest magnifying glass on offer. This isn’t necessarily helpful though, as then you’ll only see a couple of letters at a time. This can make it very laborious to read as you can’t get the whole context of a word.
If you consult a low vision specialist they can help you trial different models of magnifying glass. Otherwise, it might take some trial and error to find the best level of magnification for you.
One solution to this, is to buy a magnifying glass set with different strength lenses. This can give you an idea of which strength works best for you. For example, the Fancii Illuminated LED Handheld Magnifying Glass Set has three interchangeable heads. The largest head is 2x strength, the middle size 3.5x strength, and the small head is 10x strength. This can be a good place to start – though some people will need stronger magnification than this.
Bigger does not equal better
Many people hope to find a big magnifying glass that will cover a whole page at once.
Unfortunately, due to the rules of physics, and the way light bends through the lens, the bigger a lens the weaker the strength of magnification. It also lowers the contrast of the writing you’re looking at.
If you want a magnifying glass (rather than an electronic magnifier) you must find the best balance between the size of the lens and the strength of magnification.
If you have prescribed reading glasses, use these at the same time as using a magnifying glass for the best results.
Electronic magnifiers for macular degeneration
Above I’ve covered the best magnifying glass for macular degeneration, limiting it to traditional magnifying glasses. But if you can afford it, the best option is probably an electronic magnifier because these are high contrast, large and high strength.
Electronic or digital magnifiers come in a range of sizes – from the size of a computer screen, to portable pocket-size models.