Do I Need Reading Glasses?

Age has an effect on your eyes just like it does on your joints and other parts of your body. When you reach your 40s, the natural internal lenses in your eyes become less flexible. They can't focus as easily from near to far vision like they could when you were younger.

As your eyes get less flexible, your close vision gets worse. It's a condition called presbyopia, and it may make you wonder if you need reading glasses.

Here are a few signs that you do:

  • When you hold books and other reading materials up close, they look blurry. You have to hold them farther away to read them.
  • You have trouble seeing smaller print in dim light.
  • Your eyes hurt when you try to read, sew, or do other close work.
  • You get a headache when you try to read.

 

How to Choose a Strength

If you decide to try a pair of inexpensive "readers" you see at drug stores, look for the number on the tag that's on them. Reading glass power is measured in units called diopters. The lowest strength is usually 1.00 diopters. Glasses go up in strength by factors of .25 (1.50, 1.75, 2.00). The strongest glasses are 4.00 diopters.

Test out a few to see which one works best. Hold a book or magazine 14 to 16 inches away from your face, and see if the glasses make the print easier to read. You might need two different strengths -- one pair for very close reading and one for middle distances like your computer screen.

Choose the weakest (lowest number) glasses that will work for you.

Keep in mind that these glasses might not fit you as well as prescription glasses. They also don't correct astigmatism (a common condition that causes blurred vision), and they can't be adjusted if you need a different strength in each eye.

Also, your vision can change as you get older. You might need to buy a stronger pair of reading glasses in a year or two.

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When to See Your Doctor

If your close vision is blurry, make an appointment with your eye doctor for an exam. He can recommend a reading glass strength or write a prescription based on your exam. And it's always a good idea to get checked for other eye issues.

If you need glasses for distance vision as well, you might want to consider bifocals, trifocals, or progressive lenses. Bifocals help you see both close up and far away. Trifocals and progressive lenses adjust for close, middle, and distance viewing.

See your eye doctor right away if:

  • You have any sudden or drastic changes in your vision
  • Everything looks blurry
  • You have pain in your eyes
  • You see flashes of light or halos around lights
  • You have double vision

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that you get a baseline eye exam at age 40. This is when many vision problems, including presbyopia, may start.

After that, you should get exams:

  • Every 1 to 3 years between ages 55 and 64
  • Every 1 to 2 years starting at age 65

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brian S. Boxer Wachler, MD on November 11, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Ophthalmology: "Do I need store-bought or prescription reading glasses after cataract surgery?" "Eye Exams 101."

American Optometric Association: "Adult Vision: 41 to 60 Years of Age," "Comprehensive Eye and Vision Examination."

Cleveland Clinic: "How to Choose Perfect Drug Store Reading Glasses."

Mayo Clinic: "Presbyopia Symptoms," "Presbyopia Tests and Diagnosis."

National Institute on Aging: "Aging and Your Eyes."

National Women's Health Resource Center: "When the print is too small."

The College of Optometrists: "Ready Made Reading Glasses."

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