How to Find the Right Pair of Reading Glasses
When you reach the point of not being able to read up close without stretching your arms to the limit, you may need to consider single-vision reading glasses.
Generally, people who have never needed glasses in the past will start out with a pair of reading glasses rather than bifocals or no-line progressive lenses, which are usually a better choice if you have a need for distance as well as near correction.
Types of Reading Glasses
Reading glasses come in two main styles: full frames, in which the entire lens is made in the reading prescription, and half-eyes, the smaller “Ben Franklin” style glasses that sit lower down on the nose.
Full reading glasses are suitable for people who spend a great deal of time concentrating on material close-up. If you try to look up and across the room through the reading lenses, everything appears blurry.
Also available are tinted reading glasses, also known as sun readers, with UV protection for wearing outdoors in the sun. Another outdoor option is a sunglass bifocal, with a nonprescription upper half for looking far away and a reading prescription in the lower half for close up.
Sun Reader Examples:
Don’t confuse reading glasses with computer eyewear. If you’re using reading glasses to try to view your computer screen, it’s probably not working very well. For one thing, reading printed matter is done at a closer range than reading text on a computer screen.
When you work at a computer for any length of time, it’s common to experience eye strain, blurred vision, red eyes and other symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS). This is because the visual demands of computer work are unlike those associated with most other activities.
If you’re under age 40, eye strain or blurred vision during computer work may be due to an inability of your eyes to remain accurately focused on your screen or because your eyes have trouble changing focus from your keyboard to your screen and back again for prolonged periods. These focusing (accommodation) problems often are associated with CVS.
Why Computer Glasses?
Computer glasses differ from regular eyeglasses or reading glasses in a number of ways to optimize your eyesight when viewing your computer screen.
For example, computer glasses from Gunnar Optiks include special lens coatings to reduce glare and a tint designed to eliminate eye strain.
Computer screens usually are positioned 20 to 26 inches from the user’s eyes. This is considered the intermediate zone of vision — closer than driving (“distance”) vision, but farther away than reading (“near”) vision.
Most young people wear eyeglasses to correct their distance vision. Reading glasses are prescribed to correct near vision only. And bifocals prescribed for those over age 40 with presbyopia correct only near and far. Even trifocals and progressive lenses (which do have some lens power for intermediate vision) often don’t have a large enough intermediate zone for comfortable computer work.
Without computer eyeglasses, many computer users often end up with blurred vision, eye strain, and headaches — the hallmark symptoms of computer vision syndrome. Worse still, many people try to compensate for their blurred vision by leaning forward, or by tipping their head to look through the bottom portion of their glasses. Both of these actions can result in a sore neck, sore shoulders and a sore back.
Though they sometimes are called “computer reading glasses,” it’s best to call eyewear designed specifically for computer use “computer glasses” or “computer eyeglasses” to distinguish them from conventional reading glasses. Computer glasses put the optimum lens power for viewing your computer screen right where you need it for a clear, wide field of view without the need for excessive focusing effort or unhealthful postures.
University research also shows computer eyewear can significantly increase worker productivity.
Lens Designs for Computer Eyewear
Many special purpose lens designs work well for computer glasses. Because these lenses are prescribed specifically for computer use, they are not suitable for driving or general purpose wear.
The simplest computer glasses have single vision lenses with a modified lens power prescribed to give the most comfortable vision at the user’s computer screen. This lens power relaxes the amount of accommodation required to keep objects in focus at the distance of the computer screen and provides the largest field of view.
Computer vision syndrome causes eye fatigue, which can make you feel tired in general.
Single vision computer glasses reduce the risk of eye strain, blurred vision and unnatural posture that can cause neck and back pain, and can be used comfortably by young and old computer users alike.
Another popular lens design for computer glasses is the occupational progressive lens — a no-line multifocal that corrects near, intermediate, and, up to a point, distance vision. It has a larger intermediate zone than regular progressive lenses for more comfortable vision at the computer. But this leaves less lens area for distance vision. So these lenses are not recommended for driving or other significant distance vision tasks.
Other lenses used for computer glasses include occupational bifocal and trifocal lenses. These lined multifocal lenses have larger zones for intermediate and near vision than regular bifocals and trifocals, and the position of the intermediate and near zones can be customized for your particular computer vision needs.
Also, if your reading glasses are the type that force you to lean your head back in order to view your monitor, you’re placing unnecessary strain on your neck muscles. Computer users really should invest in prescription computer glasses.
When choosing ready-made reading glasses, always examine the lenses for little bubbles, waves, or other defects. Insist on the best quality, and if you can’t find it in ready-made readers, buy a custom-made pair, which many eye care practitioners offer at special prices.
Prescription Reading Glasses – Are They Better?
Reading glasses can be custom-made for each individual through an optical dispenser, or they can be purchased “ready-made” at a pharmacy or department store.
Ready-made readers became popular in the 1990s: three times more pairs were purchased during that decade than ever before, at an estimated rate of 30 million pairs per year. They are less expensive than custom eyewear, allowing you to own several pairs for a small amount of money.
Ready-made reading glasses are available in lots of fun styles and colors, too, so you can experiment with fashion, purchasing a somewhat outrageous pair of glasses without risking a lot of money.
If you don’t like the style, you can always get another inexpensive pair with a more conservative look. Pre-made reading glasses also allow you to stash extra pairs in different rooms of the house, as well as in your car, office, briefcase, purse, boat, and so on.
One drawback to purchasing ready-made (“drugstore”) reading glasses is that they are essentially “one-size-fits-all” items. The prescription is the same in both lenses, and the location of the optical center of the lenses is not customized for each wearer.
Most people do not have exactly the same prescription in both eyes, and almost everyone has at least a small amount of astigmatism correction in their prescriptions.
Astigmatism is probably the most misunderstood vision problem which accounts for a different prescription for each eye.
Like nearsightedness and farsightedness, astigmatism is a refractive error, meaning it is not an eye disease or eye health problem; it’s simply a problem with how the eye focuses light. In an eye with astigmatism, light fails to come to a single focus on the retina to produce clear vision. Instead, multiple focus points occur, either in front of the retina or behind it (or both).
Astigmatism usually causes vision to be blurred or distorted to some degree at all distances. Other symptoms of uncorrected astigmatism are eye strain and headaches, especially after reading or other prolonged visual tasks. Squinting also is a very common symptom.
Variable Focus/Adjustable Reader Glasses
Headaches, eye strain, and even nausea can result from wearing reading glasses that are too far off from your actual prescription or that have optical centers too far away from the center of your pupils. This is where the variable focus/adjustable reader glasses can really help.
Recognizing the “one-size-fits-all” limitations of conventional multifocal lenses, and the expense of multiple eyeglasses with single vision lenses, eyewear manufacturers have come up with an innovative solution: variable focus eyeglass lenses.
As an example, Adlens variable focus eyewear features an exclusive frame and lens combination with self-adjustable lenses that enable the wearer to focus on objects at any distance.
Each variable focus lens in Adlens glasses contains an elastic membrane within a chamber between two thin, lightweight polycarbonate lenses. When fluid is injected into this chamber by turning a removable knob on the side of the frame, the elastic membrane bows inward or outward within the chamber, which changes the power of the overall lens system.
For example, Adlens variable focus glasses are designed for use as a temporary or spare pair of glasses, and the power of the lenses can be customized instantly to correct from -6 diopters (D) of nearsightedness to +3 D of farsightedness with the simple turn of a dial.
They also can be adjusted for special visual needs, including reading, or used to manage fluctuating vision for people with poorly controlled diabetes or after eye surgery.
In an interview conducted by First Vision Media Group in August 2013, Graeme MacKenzie, Director of Industry Affairs at Adlens, had this to say about the versatility of Adlens glasses:
“Given their utility — the fact that you can just adjust the lens power — they can be used in a really wide variety of situations. A lot of people use them at home in their home office environment because you can focus at different distances. A lot of people use them as a pair of monovision glasses, so one eye is set on the computer screen and the other is set on the keyboard. And that was quite a surprising find to us — how easy it is for people to adapt to that and use the glasses in that way.”
Adlens introduced Sundials in early 2014. The lightweight “spare pair” sunglasses offer UVA and UVB protection and have temple dials that adjust for near or far vision needs from -6D to +3D.
In October 2013, the company’s Adlens Adjustables line received a Silver Stevie Award at the 10th annual International Business Awards in Barcelona, Spain. The product was recognized for its utility, craftsmanship and technology in the “Best New Product of the Year” category in Health and Pharmaceuticals.
Adlens was founded in 2005 by James Chen, a Hong Kong-based businessman, and Dr. Joshua Silver, professor of atomic physics at Oxford University in the U.K. In addition to selling variable focus eyewear to consumers online and via select retailers, the company has established philanthropic programs to bring accessible vision correction to the developing world, particularly to areas where little or no affordable eye care is available.
Dr. Silver also is CEO of the Centre for Vision in the Developing World at St. Catherine’s College in Oxford.
Other Convenient Reading Accessories
Handy accessories for temporary use, such as an evening in a dimly lit restaurant, include tiny foldable readers that fit in pen-sized cases and magnifiers that hang around your neck like a pendant.
Pocket magnifiers – you may have also seen plastic lenses mounted in credit card-sized holders that slip easily in a wallet — horrible for reading a book, but fine for those moments of desperation when you just want to know if the menu says “filet de boeuf” or “foie gras.”
Checking for Presbyopia
If you’re over age 40, the problem may be due to the onset of presbyopia — the normal age-related loss of near focusing ability. This, too, can cause CVS symptoms.
Presbyopia usually occurs beginning at around age 40, when people experience blurred near vision when reading, sewing or working at the computer.
You can’t escape presbyopia, even if you’ve never had a vision problem before. Even people who are nearsighted will notice that their near vision blurs when they wear their usual eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct distance vision.
The eye’s lens stiffens with age, so it is less able to focus when you view something up close.
Presbyopia is widespread in the United States. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, in 2014 more than 150 million Americans were age 40 and older, and the country is growing older: The median age reached 37.7 that year, up 2.4 years since 2000. This growing number of older citizens generates a huge demand for eyewear, contact lenses and surgery that can help presbyopes deal with their failing near vision.
More than a billion people in the world were presbyopic as of 2005, according to the World Health Organization, and 517 million of these did not have adequate correction with eyeglasses. In developing countries, glasses are available in urban areas, but in rural regions they are unavailable or expensive. This is unfortunate, because good near vision is important for literacy and for performing close-up work.
Presbyopia Symptoms and Signs
When people develop presbyopia, they find they need to hold books, magazines, newspapers, menus and other reading materials at arm’s length in order to focus properly. When they perform near work, such as embroidery or handwriting, they may develop headaches, eye strain or feel fatigued.
What can you do? For starters, have a comprehensive eye exam to rule out vision problems and update your eyeglasses prescription. Studies show that even small inaccuracies in your prescription lenses can contribute to computer vision problems.
If your glasses are up-to-date (or you don’t need prescription eyewear for most tasks) and you continue to experience eye discomfort during computer work, consider purchasing customized computer glasses. These special-purpose glasses are prescribed specifically to reduce eye strain and give you the most comfortable vision possible at your computer.
The Danger of Forgoing an Eye Exam
The other, more serious problem with using pre-fabricated reading glasses has less to do with the glasses than with one of the reasons that people purchase them.
Some people head to the drugstore instead of the eye doctor when they notice that it’s time for a stronger correction. In fact, a recent survey of presbyopes revealed that 17 percent purchased readers because they “didn’t want to bother with an eye exam.”
Common sense and good eye health dictate that you should consult your eye doctor when you need a change in prescription, or at least once every two years. The need for a new pair of reading glasses may be nothing more than the natural aging process at work. But it might also signal a serious problem with your eyes that can be treated if caught in time.
Glaucoma, for example, is a serious eye disease that has no symptoms at first but can steal your vision if it’s not controlled with medication. A simple test can detect glaucoma in its early stages, but you’ll need to visit your eye doctor for an eye exam in order to have the test.
Picking out your first pair of reading glasses involves finding something that feels comfortable and looks great. You’ll want to find specs that fit with your personal style and look natural on your face, no matter how infrequently they’re used. Choose a retailer that accepts returns, and have fun finding the perfect pair(s)!
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