Eyeglass Lenses

Progressive lenses, why they’re better than bifocals

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If you're over age 40 and struggling to see small print with your current glasses, you probably need multifocal lenses.

That doesn't mean you have to wear ugly bifocals or trifocals. For most people, line-free progressive lenses are a much better option.

What are progressive lenses?

Progressive lenses are no-line multifocal eyeglass lenses that look exactly the same as single vision lenses. In other words, progressive lenses will help you see clearly at all distances without those annoying (and age-defining) "bifocal lines" that are visible bifocals and trifocals.

Illustration of a progressive lens design

Progressive lenses are line-free multifocals that have a seamless progression of added magnifying power for intermediate and near vision.

The power of progressive lenses changes gradually from point to point on the lens surface, providing the correct lens power for seeing objects clearly at virtually any distance.

Bifocals, on the other hand, have only two lens powers — one for seeing distant objects clearly and a second power in the lower half of the lens for seeing clearly at a specified reading distance. The junction between these distinctly different power zones is defined by a visible "bifocal line" that cuts across the center of the lens.

Progressive lenses sometimes are called "no-line bifocals " because they don't have this visible bifocal line. They have a significantly more advanced multifocal design than bifocals or trifocals.

Progressive lens benefits

Most people start needing multifocal eyeglasses sometime after age 40. This is when a normal aging change in the eye called presbyopia reduces our ability to see close objects clearly.

Progressive lenses also are the lens of choice for anyone who needs corrective lenses to see distant objects clearly (due to nearsightedness, farsightedness and/or astigmatism) and for those who are presbyopic.

For anyone with presbyopia, progressive lenses have significant visual and cosmetic benefits compared with traditional bifocals and trifocals.

As already mentioned, bifocals have just two powers — one (in the top half of the lens) for distance vision, and a second (in the lower half of the lens) for near vision.

Trifocals go one step further — they have a third power for seeing objects clearly at arm's length. This "intermediate" power of a trifocal lens is located in a thin horizontal zone between the distance and near power zones.

Progressive lenses, on the other hand, have many more lens powers than bifocals or trifocals, and there's a gradual change in power from point to point across the surface of the lens.

The multifocal design of progressive lenses offers these benefits:

  • It provides clear vision at all distances (rather than at just two or three distinct viewing distances).
  • It eliminates "image jump" caused by bifocals and trifocals. This is where objects abruptly change in clarity and apparent position when your eyes move across the visible lines in these lenses.
  • Because there are no visible "bifocal lines" in progressive lenses, they give you a more youthful appearance than bifocals or trifocals. (This may be the reason why today more people wear progressive lenses than the bifocal and trifocals combined.)

A professional optician can help you select the best progressive lens brand and design for your eyeglass prescription and your unique visual needs.

Your optician can also give you helpful tips on how to quickly become accustomed to wearing your new progressive lenses and how to care for your eyeglasses to continue seeing clearly. Also, for the best clarity, comfort and protection in all lighting, ask your optician about adding anti-reflective coating and photochromic lens treatment to your new progressive lenses.

Ready to start seeing better? It starts with an eye exam to update your prescription and then a visit to your eyewear retailer or shopping for glasses online.

Page updated August 2018

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