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Reading glasses: What to know before you buy

man squints at laptop screen without reading glasses

When you reach the point of not being able to read up close without stretching your arms to the limit, you probably need glasses for reading. Today's world demands technology to match and that is really true of modern reading lenses.

Most people think of 'reading glasses' in two main styles:

  1. Full frames, in which the entire lens is made in their reading prescription or

  2. "Half-eyes," which are the smaller "half-moon" style glasses that sit low down on your nose.

Full reading glasses are useful if you spend a long time concentrating on material close-up. They give you a large field of view for reading, but if you try to look up and across the room through them, everything appears blurry, so your need to constantly put them on and take them off.

In contrast, "half-eye" reading glasses allow you to look down and through the lenses for near work, and up and over them to see in the distance, a reason why they are sometimes called "granny glasses".

Often, people who have never needed glasses in the past will start out with a pair of reading glasses rather than modern alternatives like progressive lenses or computer glasses (also known as extended focus lenses), simply because they didn't know they had a choice.

HAVING TROUBLE READING TEXTS ON YOUR PHONE? Reading glasses may or may not be a good option for you. Find an optometrist who can help you decide.  

A variety of ready-made reading glasses are available in some pharmacies and other retail outlets, these can be handy for temporary use, say if you've lost your glasses or left them at home and you need to read a menu in a dimly lit restaurant.

Ready-made readers are mass produced so they are cheaper, allowing you to own several pairs so you always have a pair of reading glasses nearby. They allow you to stash extra pairs in different rooms of the house, as well as in your car, office, briefcase, handbag and so on - just in case!

Advantages of modern, custom-made glasses

Reading glasses can be custom-made for each individual through your optometrist

A major drawback of ready-made reading glasses is that they are a "one-size-fits-all" item. The prescription is the same in both lenses, and the location of the optical centre of the lenses is not tailored for each wearer.

The vast majority of people have a different prescription in each eye, and almost everyone has at least a small amount of astigmatism correction in their prescriptions.

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 centres too far away from the centre of your pupils. If you experience these problems, your optometrist can offer you different solutions for your prescription.

Also, purchasing custom glasses enables you to benefit from features not available in ready-made readers. For example:

  1. Anti-reflection coating on custom reading glasses eliminates eye strain caused by distracting lens reflections.

  2. Photochromic lenses in custom-made glasses protect your eyes from UV and filter blue light from digital devices — they darken automatically in sunlight if you like to read outdoors.

  3. Even if you don't need prescription spectacles for distance vision, you may find that progressive lenses are a better option than readers — especially as they can cover multiple tasks, reading, computer, hobbies and you are able to read and see clearly across the room at the same time, (you won't need to push them down your nose to watch TV and check your text messages at the same time)

Reading glasses are not computer glasses

Don't confuse reading glasses with computer glasses. Special "office" or extended focus lenses are available that give you a greater depth of focus at your work area or for other tasks than simple readers.

If you are 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.

Also, your reading glasses may force you to bring your head forward in order to view your monitor, so you're placing unnecessary strain on your neck muscles and joints. It might explain that stiff neck and shoulders at the end of the day

Computer users really should invest in one of the many types of prescription computer / extended focus glasses, for the greater comfort they can also incorporate a blue light filter to increase contrast when viewing computer screens and other digital devices.

The danger of forgoing an eye examination

The other, more serious problem with using pre-fabricated reading glasses has less to do with the glasses than the reasons people purchase them.

Some people immediately head to the chemist instead of the optometrist when they notice that it's time for reading glasses but you should always consult your optometrist first.

The need for a pair of reading glasses may be nothing more than the natural ageing process at work, but it might also signal a serious problem with your eyes that can be treated if caught in time. Many serious eye conditions have very few symptoms until it is too late.

Don’t take chances with your eyes — see your optometrist before buying reading glasses.

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