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You Can See Clearly Now

And if you can't, new higher-tech glasses, contacts, or easy surgery will bring even the numbers on your cell phone into focus

WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

Good Housekeeping Magazine LogoQuick! Put your hands on your head. Are your glasses there? Grab your neck — are they dangling there? Now, hold your electric bill four feet from your face and try to read it....

Welcome to the midlife version of Simon Says, a nearly universal condition known as presbyopia, which translates roughly to "elderly eye" (as if crow's feet weren't enough). It usually starts in your early 40s, as the lens of the eye stiffens, losing its ability to focus and making it difficult to see objects up close, explains Ruth D. Williams, M.D., president-elect of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. There are four million new cases a year, and the number will keep growing as the population ages, with people holding their books and menus farther and farther from their eyes.

While presbyopia comes on gradually, it may feel very sudden: One day even squinting isn't enough to make out a text-message, or you can't thread a needle. An ophthalmologist or optometrist can make the official diagnosis — and determine what to do about it — by having you read the eye chart while looking through lenses.

If you've never had eye trouble before, you may do fine with nonprescription reading glasses (the kind you can buy in drugstores). But as you struggle to see objects that are closest to you, you'll likely need your vision corrected professionally. And if you enter midlife with an existing vision issue, you may now need a new prescription — possibly progressive lenses, which give you multiple corrections within one lens (unlike the old bifocals, which only corrected for far and near distance).

So, if you haven't had your eyes examined recently, make an appointment. You should have a baseline exam by age 40, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and then schedule follow-up checks as often as your doctor recommends.

If you're one of the more than 35 million lucky Americans who have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), this is the perfect time for that exam (and any new lenses and frames). While the IRS now allows employers to extend the spending deadline till March 15, the grace period is optional, so you may have only until December 31 to use up your funds. Here, to start, the vision problems that commonly strike at midlife and, based on the latest research, the best ways to solve them.

The Problem: Your new reading glasses seem fine at the drugstore, but once you get home, they aren't strong enough.

The Fix: Bring a book or your knitting or use the fine print on a pill bottle for your own eye test. "The letter charts in stores are fairly generic," says Diane Charles, an optician in Redmond, WA. "You may not be able to gauge how well you can make out the things you need to see in your own life." Also, off-the-rack readers may not work for you. "Most people need separate prescriptions for each eye," says Charles.

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