Are Progressive Lenses Right For You?

You've passed your 40th birthday, and you're having trouble reading or seeing objects up close. Maybe you've tried to carry store-bought readers around with you, but your eye doctor suggests progressive lenses. Should you take the plunge?

What Are Progressive Lenses?

Progressive lenses have three prescriptions in one pair of glasses. That allows you to do close-up work (like reading a book), middle-distance work (like checking out a website on a computer), or distance viewing (like driving) without needing to change your glasses. They're sometimes called multifocal lenses.

Progressive lenses are an update on bifocal and trifocal lenses. Both of these more traditional types of glasses have telltale lines in the lenses. Progressives have a seamless look. Sometimes they're called "no-line bifocals," but that's not quite right. It would be more accurate to call progressive lenses "no-line trifocals."

Who Uses Progressive Lenses?

Almost anyone with a vision problem can wear these lenses, but they're only needed for people ages 40 and older whose vision blurs when they're doing close-up work like reading or sewing. This condition is called presbyopia. It's a natural part of getting older.

Even people who are nearsighted and over 40 may find that their near vision blurs when they wear glasses for distances.

Talk to your doctor to see if progressives are an option for you.

Benefits of Progressive Lenses

With progressive lenses, you won't need to have more than one pair of glasses with you. You don't need to swap between your reading and regular glasses.

Vision with progressives can seem natural. If you switch from viewing something up close to something far away, you won't get a "jump" like you would with bifocals or trifocals. So if you're driving, you can look at your dashboard, at the road, or at a sign in the distance with a smooth transition.

They look like regular glasses. In one study, people who wore traditional bifocals were given progressive lenses to try. The study's author said most made the switch for good.

Drawbacks of Progressive Lenses

It takes time to adjust to progressives. You need to train yourself to look out of the lower part of the lens when you're reading, to look straight ahead for distance, and to look somewhere between the two spots for middle distance or computer work. Some people never adjust, but most do. During the learning period, you may feel dizzy and nauseas from looking through the wrong section of lens. There may also be some distortion of your peripheral vision (what you see on the edges when looking straight ahead).

Another thing to consider is the cost. Progressive lenses cost at least $100 more than traditional bifocals.

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Tips for Adjusting to Progressive Lenses

If you decide to try them, use these tips:

  • Choose a quality optical shop that can guide you through the process, help you pick a good frame, and make sure the lenses are perfectly centered over your eyes. Poorly fitted progressives are a common reason why people can't adapt to them.
  • Give yourself one or two weeks to adjust to them. Some people may need as long as a month.
  • Make sure you understand your eye doctor's instructions on how to use them.
  • Wear your new lenses as often as possible and stop wearing your other glasses. It will make the adjustment quicker.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on December 26, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Paraoptometric Resource Center: "Fitting Progressive Addition Lenses."

The Vision Council: "Lens Options."

American Optometric Association: "Presbyopia."

Klinische Monatsblätter für Augenheilkunde. "Acceptance of progressive lenses."

Dr. Ingrid Cooke, OD, Optometrist, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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