What is Low Vision?

When standard eye glasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery cannot provide sharp sight and the impairment interferes with a person’s ability to perform everyday activities, an individual is said to have low vision.

What is a Low Vision Specialist?

With advanced training, a low vision eye doctor understands high-powered optics and magnification plus has working knowledge of the multitude of special glasses, magnifiers, electronic and non-optical low vision devices that can help those with reduced vision. Patients and families can be extremely upset, fearful, and even depressed due to loss of independence. Part of the extensive examination involves the time to explain the eye and vision condition and what the future may hold to patients who may be confused, misinformed and/or have an unrealistic view of their daily living tasks. A low vision eye doctor has compassion and empathy for what the patient and family is going through as well as the knowledge, resources and experience to help them adjust to the difficult situation.

What Causes Low Vision?

Medical conditions can cause reduced vision. The leading causes are Macular Degeneration, Diabetic Retinopathy, Inoperable Cataracts, Glaucoma and Stroke. Congenital defects like Retinopathy of Prematurity can cause reduced vision. Genetic defects like Retinitis Pigmentosa and Stargardt’s disease cause reduced vision. Traumatic injuries sometimes cause reduced vision. If the reduced vision impairs the ability to do the tasks you want to do, then it is low vision.

How is a Low Vision Exam Different?

A low vision examination is quite different from a regular eye examination. It is a longer examination usually lasting one hour or more. It is a “vision and function” examination; therefore medical tests such as dilation are usually omitted. The first part of the low vision examination is conversing with the patient to find out how the reduced vision is affecting their life. The “wish list” is created so the doctor understands what the patients’ goals are. The second part is extensive vision testing. Careful refraction is performed to find out if a new “regular” eyeglass prescription will help. Part three works with magnification, illumination and other optical and non-optical low vision devices. The doctor must determine the best form and level of magnification needed for the person to perform the desired tasks. Telescopes, microscopes, and prisms, with varying levels of magnification and strength as well as other magnification devices are presented to the patient. Illumination levels must be determined as lighting plays a major role in vision. Part four is another conversation with the patient to determine the best form and level of magnification for that particular person’s task requirements.

How Much Will This Cost?

The low vision evaluation will be covered by Medicare and/or insurance. Telescopic spectacles range approximately between $1000 and $3000. Microscope and Prismatic glasses used for near tasks range approximately between $500 and $1200. It is important to understand that low vision devices are “task specific.” They are designed for the task the person wants to do. Therefore it may, and usually does, take more than one pair of glasses or magnifiers to handle the various tasks the patient wants to do. It is not unusual for a patient to need bioptic telescope glasses for outdoor travel and/or driving, full diameter telescopic glasses for television and microscope or prismatic glasses for reading. What is ordered depends upon the patients’ wish list, commitment and financial resources.

When Do I Get My Glasses?

It usually takes six weeks for specialized glasses to be fabricated. Arrangements can be made to have them sooner in some circumstances. If a person has a special event happening and needs the glasses, the lab will usually cooperate.

Do Vitamins Help?

For certain conditions, vitamins may be the ONLY help. Dr. Bissell will discuss vitamin therapy with you during your evaluation.

What Is The Free Telephone Interview?

The free telephone interview is a way of limiting the time, expense and disappointment of people who probably cannot be helped by low vision care. Dr. Bissell has determined that asking the right questions on the phone could determine if a patient was qualified for low vision services. “If not, why put the patient through the time and expense only to be extremely disappointed?” says Dr. Bissell. During the free telephone interview, Dr. Bissell will ask questions regarding vision, functional abilities, goals, motivation, health, and mobility to determine if an appointment is in the best interests of the caller.

How Do I Know The Glasses Will Work After I Get Them?

During the evaluation, the patient will use actual low vision telescope, microscope and prismatic glasses on the tasks desired. The doctor and the patient will see that they work BEFORE they are ordered. This will be done again when the patient picks up the glasses. We never order glasses until the patient knows that they work.

What If My Vision Changes After I Get The Glasses?

Almost always, prescriptions and magnification levels can be changed without the need for a whole new pair of glasses. We offer a six month warranty if the prescription changes at no charge to the patient. It is interesting that changes are actually rarely needed.

How Do I Pay For Them?

Since most insurance, including Medicare and supplemental do not cover the expense of low vision glasses, the patient must bear the expense. Credit cards are accepted and financing is available through care credit, sometimes with no interest. Discuss this during the free telephone interview.

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