Everyone has that moment when they realize they might need reading glasses. Whether it was while reading your page-turner late into the night, or scanning the paper early in the morning, you couldn’t help but notice the words just weren’t as clear as they used to be.
While the need for reading glasses is a completely normal part of getting older, it can still come with mixed emotions. Changes in your vision are disheartening, even downright annoying sometimes. But you’re not alone. Nearly everyone experiences age-related vision changes by their early to mid-40s, and you have plenty of options to keep seeing clearly.
Read on for more information on how our eyes change as we get older and how to get your best fit when it comes to reading glasses.
How our eyes change as we age
Our bodies change as we get older, and our eyes are no exception. When we’re young, we’re able to focus on things both close up and far away thanks to muscles within the eye that flex against the lens, changing its shape to help us focus.
So why do we need reading glasses eventually? Over time, the lenses in our eyes become less flexible, and can’t change shape like they used to. This makes it harder for us to focus on small things we typically hold near to us, like a book with small text or a sewing project. This is an incredibly common condition called presbyopia – and it’s a normal part of getting older.
Most people notice changes in their vision caused by presbyopia after age 40 and begin needing reading glasses around this time.
Signs that it may be time for reading glasses
The lenses in our eyes actually begin to harden as early as our teenage years, but they do so at such a slow rate that we don’t notice any difference in our vision until our early to mid-40s, or even later. Age-related changes to our vision are most apparent when we try to read.
Here are a few signs that presbyopia is starting to affect your vision:
- Blurry vision when viewing things at your typical reading distance
- Holding reading materials at arm’s length to see clearly
- Increasing font size when reading on a smartphone, computer or tablet
- Needing more light to be able to read
- Having trouble distinguishing between similar colors, like blue and black
- Feeling eye strain or getting headaches when focusing on small, close-up tasks
Your vision will continue to change after age 40 and you may have to switch prescription strengths frequently – about every two years or so. Your vision will settle again around age 65.
Why we need reading glasses and how they can help
Reading glasses act like a magnifying glass, making it easier for our eyes to focus on words and objects. They can help lessen the impact of presbyopia on our vision, while taking some of the strain off our eyes as they try to see clearly.
It’s important to note that presbyopia is different from being farsighted, though you may hear presbyopia referred to as “age-related farsightedness.” Presbyopia is caused by the hardening of our eyes’ internal lens, while farsightedness is the result of our unique eyeball shape. Farsightedness is inherited and starts impacting vision right away, while presbyopia does not occur until later in life.
Do you need a prescription for reading glasses?
When you notice changes in your vision, even if it’s likely related to getting older, it’s important to schedule an eye exam with an optometrist. They will be able to rule out any other potential causes of vision changes.
For many people, over-the-counter drugstore reading glasses can be a good option. They’re often called “readers” or “cheaters.” However, these readers are often lower quality, and can’t be customized like prescription reading glasses can. Perhaps you have one eye that is stronger than the other, or your vision needs fall in between common levels of magnification strength. In these cases, your optometrist can perform an eye exam to determine the best and most exact reading glasses prescription for you. If you wore corrective lenses before experiencing presbyopia, you will require a unique prescription.
Reading glasses eye exam
Your eye doctor can diagnose presbyopia during an eye exam. And when you keep up with regular eye appointments, they can monitor the progression of presbyopia as you get older.
Not sure when to have an eye exam? The American Optometric Association recommends the following exam schedule:
- Age 64 and younger: Every 1-2 years
- Age 65 and older: Yearly or as recommended
Types of reading glasses
There is no cure for presbyopia, and it can’t be entirely prevented either. With presbyopia, reading glasses are often the best way to keep seeing clearly. The type of reading glasses that work best for you will depend on your unique situation and whether you needed prescription eyeglasses prior to experiencing presbyopia.
Prescription reading glasses
Over-the-counter reading glasses can be affordable and convenient for people with presbyopia, but prescription reading glasses are usually of higher quality and offer more personalized options.
When you first start wearing your reading glasses, there may be an adjustment period. You might experience headaches as your eyes get used to them. Increase the time you spend wearing them by an hour or two each day. Reading glasses are not designed to be worn all the time, as they will make your distance vision blurry. Instead, only wear them when you need to see clearly up close.
Bifocals are reading glasses with two different focusing powers in the same lens. They are commonly prescribed by an optometrist for people who are already nearsighted or farsighted, and wear glasses to see things clearly in the distance. Bifocals can help you see both close-up and far away. The lenses are divided into distance vision correction on the top and close-up vision correction on the bottom. Bifocals can be worn all day.
Trifocals are reading glasses with three different focusing powers in the same lens. Trifocals can help you see near and far, as well as objects in between. This is called your intermediate vision, which you use to see things that are typically 20-40 inches away. The lenses are divided into three sections: distance vision on top, intermediate in the middle and close-up on the bottom. Trifocals can be worn all day.
Progressive lenses (varifocals)
Where bifocals and trifocals have visible breaks between the different focusing powers, progressive lenses offer a gradual transition from one power to another, with no seams on the lenses.
Multifocal contact lenses
Contact lenses for presbyopia look and function in many of the same ways as contact lenses for other vision issues. They can be bifocal or trifocal, just like reading glasses. However, the arrangement of different focusing powers in contact lenses can vary greatly. There are three types: concentric, aspheric and segmented.
Concentric contact lenses have several alternating rings of different focusing powers that allow you to see near and far simultaneously. Aspheric contact lenses correct distance vision in the center and seamlessly transition to near vision correction on the outer rim. Segmented contact lenses are the same as bifocal and trifocal contact lenses, with distance vision on the top and near vision on the bottom.
Other treatments for presbyopia
Reading glasses are the most common treatment for presbyopia. However, there are other treatments available that may be a better fit for your unique situation. These treatments are less common, and some come with a few risks. If you’re curious, talk with your optometrist.
While laser treatment can be used to treat most cases of farsightedness, nearsightedness and astigmatism, it is more complicated for presbyopia. Before undergoing laser treatment for presbyopia, you should thoroughly discuss it with your eye doctor, as laser treatment is irreversible.
LASIK is only an option for people experiencing presbyopia who are also nearsighted, farsighted or have astigmatism. LASIK treatment for presbyopia often includes correcting your dominant eye for distance vision and your other eye for near vision. This is called monovision, or blended vision, and is a method of correcting vision that makes your eyes work together to see clearly at any distance.
This treatment is not for everyone, as the brain can’t always adapt to this way of seeing. It may make it harder for you to see in dim conditions and impact your depth perception, or your ability to judge how far away things are. Your eye doctor will recommend you try monovision glasses or contact lenses first.
Currently, there are just a few surgical options to treat presbyopia.
Synthetic lens implantation is a common procedure in the treatment of cataracts, but it can also be used to treat presbyopia. During surgery, a synthetic lens, also called an intraocular lens, is put into the eye to replace the current lens.
Another surgery involves the insertion of corneal inlays. A corneal inlay is a small, flat disc with a tiny opening in the center. During surgery, the corneal inlay is placed directly into the eye and in front of the pupil, where it can help to focus incoming light and create clearer images.
Presbyopia eyedrops for near vision
So far, just one brand of eyedrop has received FDA-approval to treat presbyopia. Named Vuity, it’s a formulation of pilocarpine hydrochloride that causes the pupil to contract on contact with the eye. With the pupil contracted, near objects come into clearer focus. The effects last about six hours, allowing you to go without reading glasses for that amount of time.
These kinds of eyedrops that make the pupil smaller are known as miotics. Other types are still in development, including lens softening drops, but these are best suited for people with early presbyopia.
Does everyone eventually need reading glasses?
Yes, almost everyone will eventually need to use reading glasses, even if you have always had perfect vision. Presbyopia is a normal part of aging, and while you don’t have to embrace it, you can try to enjoy it. Reading glasses can become another way to express your unique style.
If things are looking a little blurry, our optometrists are here to help you see clearly.