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New type of glasses help with low vision

September 8, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Doctors now say a special pair of glasses may give low vision patients a brand new option. What looks like a relaxing afternoon at home is actually a remarkable feat for Barbara Whitlock.

"It was almost mind-boggling really. I could actually see to read. It made me want to cry to tell you the truth," said Whitlock.

For the past nine years, a combination of cataracts and macular degeneration stole her sight.

"You don't realize what you've lost until you've lost it," said Whitlock.

Her passion -- keeping up with the news -- was taken away until she put on a unique pair of glasses.

"This doesn't cure anything, but what this does, is it allows people with the condition to function better," said Dr. Jeffrey Sonsino from Vanderbilt Eye Institute.

The condition that Barbara and 14 million other Americans suffer from is called low vision. It's what happens when macular degeneration, diabetes or glaucoma damages the eyes, and their vision can't be fixed with regular glasses, contacts or surgery.

Dr. Sonsino created illuminated low vision glasses. They combine a high-powered LED light in the frame, magnifying lenses, and prism correction that prevents eye fatigue.

"Those three things together provide magnification and enhanced contrast when the patient is reading at very close distance," said Dr. Sonsino.

In a study, the glasses improved patients' reading abilities by almost 90 percent compared to regular glasses.

Dr. Sonsino says the cost for the glasses is still being researched, but they are expected to be more affordable than a pair of bifocals. It is a simple solution that makes a world of difference for a woman who wants to see the details in her life.

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