Reading glasses: A buying guide for readers
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
Reading glasses come in two main styles:
Full frames, in which the entire lens is made in the reading prescription.
"Half-eyes," which are the smaller "Ben Franklin" style glasses that sit lower down on your nose.
Full reading glasses are suitable for people who spend a great deal of time concentrating on material close-up. These give you a larger field of view for reading, but if you try to look up and across the room through them, everything appears blurry.
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.
Generally, people who have never needed glasses in the past will start out with a pair of reading glasses rather than progressive lenses or bifocals, which are usually a better choice if you have a need for distance as well as near correction.
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.
You may have even 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 quickly read the bill in a restaurant.
Also available are tinted reading glasses with UV protection for wearing outdoors in the sun; a popular type is the sunglass bifocal, with a nonprescription upper half for looking far away and a reading prescription in the lower half for close up.
Advantages of custom-made reading glasses
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 are less expensive than custom eyewear, allowing you to own several pairs so you always have a pair of reading glasses nearby.
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 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.
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. If you experience these problems, visit your eye doctor for a customized reading glasses prescription.
Also, purchasing custom reading glasses enables you to benefit from features not available in store-bought readers. For example:
Anti-reflective coating on custom reading glasses eliminates eye strain caused by distracting lens reflections.
Photochromic lenses in custom-made reading glasses protect your eyes from UV and high-energy visible blue light from digital devices — and darken automatically in sunlight if you like to read outdoors.
Even if you don't need prescription eyewear for distance vision, you may find that progressive lenses are a better option than readers — especially if you're a multi-tasker and you need to be able to read and see clearly across the room at the same time.
Finally, special "office" progressive lenses also are available that give you a greater depth of focus at your work area than store-bought readers.
Reading glasses are not computer glasses
Don't confuse reading glasses with computer glasses.
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, 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 for the greatest comfort and protection from high-energy visible blue light when viewing computer screens and other digital devices.
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 stronger reading glasses. But you should always consult your eye doctor first.
The need for a stronger 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.
Don’t take chances with your eyes — see your eye doctor for an eye exam before buying stronger reading glasses.
Page published in March 2019
Page updated in September 2020