The aging process affects the function of your eyes in much the same way as other body parts, like your creaky joints. As the focusing system in your eyes gets less flexible, your close vision will worsen. This condition is known as presbyopia, and it makes many patients who have never worn glasses wonder if they need reading glasses.
We all experience presbyopia in our 40s, when the lenses inside of our eyes start to lose the ability to focus. When these intra-ocular lenses become thicker and less flexible with age, we experience a gradual loss of the ability to change focus from far to near.
Here are some indications that you probably actually need readers:
➢ Reading books or text messages at a ‘typical’ reading distance (about 16 inches or 40 cm) is difficult, and holding the object farther away helps you read it.
➢ You have eye strain, discomfort, or even headaches when you read, use devices, or otherwise do near work for more than a few minutes
➢ Fine print is really challenging without good lighting
➢ It’s hard to see your food well as you eat
➢ Your distance vision seems clear, but near work is increasingly difficult
Here are some signs that reading glasses may not be the best solution for you:
Your distance vision is not good (you need glasses for driving, etc)
You have significant astigmatism in your glasses prescription
You see better up close than far away. Near-sighted (myopic) people can often take their glasses off to read. These folks generally don’t need over-the-counter readers.
Your glasses prescription is lop-sided, with on side stronger than the other
There are important health reasons for getting regular eye check-ups with an optometrist or ophthalmologist. One down side to self-diagnosing and fixing your blur with an over-the-counter pair of glasses is that you won’t get the key eye health checks that are part of a routine eye exam. You can think of an eye exam like a physical for your eyes. Most adults should be examined every 1-2 years.
How to choose a strength of reading glasses
If you do decide to try a pair of inexpensive “readers” you can get at drug stores, start by looking for the number on the tag. The power of the reading glasses should also be printed on the inside of one of the temple arms. Glasses power is measured in units called diopters. The lowest-strength reading glasses available are typically +1.00, and the strongest are three to four diopters. If you intend to use readers over your contacts, be sure to wear the contact lenses to the store when you try out readers.
Start with a low power reader, and then grab your phone or a magazine. Hold the reading material at about 14-16 inches (35-40 cm). If you can read comfortably, then you are done. If you still have to hold the material further away to make it clear and comfortable, go up one level. You want to select the lowest power that gets the job done.
It’s important to realize that many patients cannot achieve good near vision in over-the-counter readers. For example, astigmatism causes blur at all distances, and readers don’t address astigmatism. Plus, cheap glasses typically don’t fit as well or look as good as a pair of ophthalmic glasses filled with your doctor’s glasses prescription. Also, what works for you this year likely won’t be strong enough in two years as your vision changes.
Depending on your glasses prescription, you might need prescription reading glasses. Ask your eye doctor about this, especially if reading glasses have not solved your near vision problems.
When to see your Eye Doctor
If your close vision is blurry, you should probably make an appointment to see your optometrist. Regular eye health exams go a long ways towards preserving your eyesight.
Plus, if you already use glasses or contacts to see well in the distance, you’ll need to get an eye exam so that your eye doctor can prescribe multifocal (progressive) glasses.
See your eye doctor immediately if:
• You experience sudden vision loss in one or both eyes
• You have pain in or around the eyes
• You have sudden onset double vision
• You see flashes of light and floaters – things suddenly floating in your vision
• Foreign matter has gotten into the eye or there is another ocular emergency
The American Optometric Association recommends an eye exam at least every two years for healthy adults age 40-64.
Q: What is a “diopter chart” and how can you select reading glasses based on your age?
A: A diopter chart indicates the predicted reading glasses power based on your age and assumes you don’t need distance glasses. Many factors, such as your distance prescription can throw this off, but this chart still might be useful:
Age Range Initial Reader Diopter Power to Try:
Q: Will reading glasses fix my blurry vision?
A: If you have great distance vision and struggle with near blur, readers will likely help. If you’re wearing readers to see better far away, then you have other issues that will likely require an eye exam and progressive glasses.
Q: Can I get a reading glasses eye test?
A: At Cannon EyeCare, we do annual exams on many patients who only need reading glasses. We check eye health carefully to make sure any vision-threatening or troubling issues are addressed, and we then steer our patients to the proper power of readers based on our in-office testing.
Q: Are all reading glasses created equal?
A: In a word, no. Some retail for $2/pair. Others are closer to $100/pair. What gives? The $2 readers are inexpensive, but they’re cheap. In order to sell them at that price point, the manufacturer has spent 50¢ producing them. Thus, the materials and build quality are likely to be poor. At Market Optical, the high-end business that Cannon EyeCare works out of, eyebobs are the readers of choice. They sell for $90 and come with a stylish high quality frame and lenses that include anti-reflective treatments.