Do reading glasses require a prescription?

eyeglasses on top of glasses prescription form

Do you need a prescription for reading glasses? No, you don’t. 

That’s one of many misconceptions and much confusion when it comes to reading glasses, such as “will buying over-the-counter readers make my vision worse?” And of course, “Why do I need reading glasses?”

“The vast majority of purchases in the readers category are for non-prescription — also called OTC or "over-the-counter" readers,” says Jon Corwyn, director of growth marketing at Readers.com.

“You do not need a prescription to buy reading glasses,” he adds. “Non-prescription readers do of course still have a specific lens magnification, typically ranging from +0.25 to +6.00, called a ‘power’ or ‘strength.’”

The need for prescription vs. non-prescription readers ultimately depends on your vision condition. 

WHAT IS YOUR VISION CONDITION? Find an eye doctor near you and book a comprehensive eye exam. 

Why do people need reading glasses?

With age, we lose our ability to focus on small print and other nearby objects. This condition, called presbyopia, affects nearly everyone in their 40s and beyond — even those who have never needed glasses or contacts before. It’s simply a normal part of the aging process.

Researchers estimate that nearly 2 billion people around the world have presbyopia. This condition can cause significant impairment and reduce quality of life for those without access to adequate vision correction. Correction options include progressive lenses (or bifocals or trifocals), multifocal lenses, vision surgery and readers.

For many people, basic reading glasses are inexpensive, widely available and can be purchased over the counter, without a prescription. 

What are over-the-counter reading glasses?

You can purchase over-the-counter (OTC) readers without a prescription at a retail store or online. 

Typically, OTC readers are inexpensive, though higher-quality and specialty styles are available from some retailers.

Reading glasses are available in “powers” or strengths ranging from +0.25 to +6.00 — this number indicates how much they’ll magnify what you see through their lenses. 

To determine what power you need, you can use an online tool like this printable diopter chart. Or, you can test out a few pairs at a local retailer to see which feels most comfortable in use. 

If you’ve narrowed it down to two pairs of readers, it’s usually best to choose the one with less magnification. 

Are over-the-counter reading glasses bad for your eyes?

In a word, no. Contrary to popular belief, wearing reading glasses won’t cause your vision to get worse. 

If you’ve estimated your prescription inaccurately, you may find yourself experiencing eye strain or headaches, but these symptoms are temporary and should improve as soon as you change your glasses.

Are prescription reading glasses necessary?

Purchasing prescription reading glasses depends on your vision condition.

Prescription reading glasses are designed to be worn over long periods of time and are better suited for those with myopia, significant astigmatism and other eye disorders. 

If you experience eye strain or double vision after wearing your reading glasses for extended periods of time, it’s a good idea to schedule an eye exam. An exam can help rule out eye disorders that may be contributing to your discomfort. 

Plus, an optometrist or ophthalmologist can screen for conditions like glaucoma and cataracts that become more prevalent as we age.

Prescription reading glasses are more expensive than their OTC counterparts, but may be covered by vision insurance. Expenses, including lenses, frames and the exam, can also be paid for with funds from a flexible spending account or health savings account.

THINK READERS MIGHT HELP YOU SEE BETTER? Find an optical store near you or online and start shopping.

Find Eye Doctor

Schedule an exam

Find Eye Doctor