At your recent eye examination you learned that your inability to focus up close is a sign of presbyopia, for which the first and easiest treatment option is reading glasses. Here is all you need to know about them, and what to consider before buying a pair.

Who Needs Reading Glasses?

Adults older than 40 who find they have to hold magazines, books, and other reading material at arm’s length in order to focus often need glasses solely for reading. If you already wear eyeglasses for distance vision, you may need bifocal lenses. In addition to difficulty in reading, other symptoms of presbyopia — such as eye strain, headaches, and blurred vision while reading — may occur if you continue trying to focus without some type of vision correction. If you suspect you have presbyopia, it is best to have your eyes evaluated by an ophthalmologist before going to your local pharmacy to buy a cheap pair of glasses. If you visit your eye doctor at least once every two years, presbyopia can be caught early, before any symptoms become problematic.

Why Visit the Eye Doctor for Reading Glasses?

Foregoing a visit to the eye doctor is unwise for a few reasons. First, the symptoms of presbyopia may mimic those of other, more serious eye conditions. The likelihood of you having a serious eye condition is probably slim, and presbyopia does happen to everyone as a natural part of the aging process. However, because of the progressive nature of some eye disorders, and the potential for vision loss, it is best to have your eye doctor confirm your need for glasses for reading. Another reason for visiting your eye doctor is to find out whether you may need a customized prescription glasses. Most people do not have exactly the same prescription in both eyes, and almost everyone has a small amount of astigmatism that needs correcting.

“Ready-to-wear” reading glasses are one-size-fits-all, meaning that the prescription is the same in both lenses. Most ready-to-wear glasses are not that strong, about +3. If your prescription is higher than that (for example, a +6.25), you may need prescription-strength glasses.

Headaches, eye strain, and even nausea can result from wearing the wrong glasses that are too far off from your actual prescription, or that have optical centers too far away from the center of your pupils.A visit to the eye doctor can also be helpful in that you might find one of the other treatment options available for presbyopia more appealing than glasses.

Types of Reading Glasses

There are two types of reading glasses: full frames, in which the entire lens is made in the reading prescription, and half-eyes, the smaller “Ben Franklin” style glasses that sit lower on the nose.

  • Full frame: Full-frame reading glasses are suitable for people who spend much of their time concentrating on close-up material. If you try to look up and across the room through the reading lenses, everything appears blurry.
  • Half-eye: With half-eye reading glasses, you can look down and through the lenses for near work, and up and over them to see in the distance. If you have not needed glasses in the past, then you might start out with a pair of full-frame reading glasses. Bifocals and no-line progressive lenses are usually a better choice for people who need correction for distance as well as near vision.
  • Computer: Reading glasses are usually meant for reading printed text, not for reading text on a computer screen. If you find it difficult to view your computer screen while using reading glasses, you may need glasses specifically made for computer viewing. Learn about computer vision syndrome.
  • Reading sunglasses: Tinted reading glasses (“sun readers”) are available for reading in the sun. These glasses may come with UV protection and an anti-reflective coating.

Price range for reading glasses: Custom-made prescription reading glasses through an optical dispenser may be covered under your insurance or offered at a special price. Ready-to-wear reading glasses are available at many retailers, including pharmacy and department stores, online vendors, and even dollar stores. They can range in price from a few dollars to over $200 for brand-name designer ones.

Style of reading glasses: Like prescription glasses, reading glasses come in a variety of fun colors and styles. They may be plastic, metal, semi-rimless, cloth, or leather, although most are plastic. You can often find a frame size to fit your face width (narrow, average, or wide) and a frame shape that suits your facial characteristics (cay eye, oval, rectangle, round, or square).

What to Consider When Buying Reading Glasses

Many people find having two pairs of glasses for reading is helpful, so they can keep one in the house and one in their purse or car. If your prescription matches what is available in over-the-counter, you are in luck. Buying multiple pairs of these glasses will be no problem because they are so affordable. You can try out frames in different colors and styles without risking a lot of money. A common complaint with over-the-counter reading glasses is that they tend to wear out more quickly than prescription glasses.

Spending a little more money on a quality pair of glasses may be worthwhile to you, especially if you would rather not have to buy them every few months. Before purchasing a pair of ready-to-wear reading glasses, always examine the lenses for little bubbles, waves, or other defects. The quality of reading glasses cannot always be guaranteed when you buy them from a retailer that does not specialize in eyewear.

Note that all sunglasses and reading glasses are medical devices and subject to FDA labeling requirements. These labeling requirements apply to all medical devices, of both U.S. and foreign origin. A reading glasses manufacturer cannot make unsubstantiated claims of therapeutic or preventative value. Any claims of use and performance have to be approved by the FDA. However, sunglasses and reading glasses do not require pre-market approval. This means that although the ready-to-wear reading glasses you’re buying may make a claim about use and performance, they have not been tested by the FDA. As of May 2011, no standard for reading glasses has been set.