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Are Reading Glasses Bad for Your Eyes?

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A woman wearing reading glasses and reading a book

You may notice close-up images are a little less clear in your 40s. While this is nothing to worry about, your optometrist may recommend reading glasses. These glasses help improve your vision, but some people believe they’re bad for your eyes. 

Continue reading to learn more about reading glasses, including why you might need them and how they affect your eyes. 

Why Reading Glasses? 

Reading glasses are magnifying lenses that come in different strengths. Someone requires reading glasses when they need extra support to see close-up images clearly. Different types of reading glasses are available, depending on your needs. 

These glasses are ideal for older adults when their eyes struggle to focus on nearby objects. Eye strain and headaches can occur when reading or doing other close-up tasks because your eyes must focus harder. Reading glasses and other corrective eyewear reduces eye strain by magnifying close-up images.

Your reading glasses used to be one of the only ways to improve near vision, requiring you to own another pair of lenses. Today, alternative eyewear options exist if you’re looking to improve your close-up vision in one pair of glasses. Bifocals and progressive lenses feature multiple prescriptions in one lens, helping you see near and far away images.  

What Is Presbyopia? 

Presbyopia is the loss of your eye’s ability to see clear images close-up. This condition is common with age, developing in your early to mid-40s. It doesn’t matter if you have a refractive error or not—presbyopia affects many older adults. Previous research discovered approximately 1.8 billion people had presbyopia in 2015. 

Because presbyopia develops gradually, you may notice your eyesight is slowly becoming worse when you read or look at nearby objects. Some common signs of presbyopia include: 

  • A need to hold books & other reading material at a distance to see better
  • Blurry vision from normal reading distances
  • Eye strain or headaches after reading or doing other close-up work

Your optometrist can determine if you have presbyopia during a comprehensive eye exam

What Causes Presbyopia? 

Presbyopia occurs when your eye’s lens becomes more rigid, making it harder to change shape. Your cornea and lens bend light as it enters the eye to focus an image on the retina, which sends signals to your brain to create the daily images you see. 

Your lens is flexible and changes shape with help from the muscle surrounding it. This muscle relaxes to look far away and constricts to see nearby objects. Unfortunately, changing the lens’s shape becomes more difficult with time. 

Your lens loses its flexibility because it hardens with age. The lens cannot change shape to focus on close-up images, causing them to appear blurry. 

There’s no way to prevent presbyopia because it’s a natural part of aging. However, you can make your vision more comfortable by getting reading glasses or other eyewear like progressive lenses. Some people may avoid reading glasses because they think they worsen their vision, but how true is this belief?  

A man wearing reading glasses and reading a book

Are Reading Glasses Bad for Your Eyes? 

Understandably, some people think reading glasses are bad for their eyes, especially if they haven’t needed glasses before. You’re experiencing your vision problem consistently when you don’t have reading glasses. Your vision improves when you wear reading glasses, but taking them off can create the impression that they worsen your vision. 

Reading a book with reading glasses on helps you see the words clearly without much effort. Those words look blurrier when you take your glasses off, making it seem like your vision is worse. However, your vision isn’t worse—you’re actively noticing your vision problem now. 

Reading glasses aren’t bad for your eyes—they improve how well you can see close-up objects. It’s important to note presbyopia progresses with age, making your eyes work harder. Leaving presbyopia untreated can lead to eye strain and headaches, so speak with your optometrist about reading glasses or other eyewear options. 

Should You Get Prescription or Over-the-Counter Reading Glasses?

If you’re looking to get reading glasses, prescription and over-the-counter options exist. Over-the-counter reading glasses are generally cheaper and easier to pick up. However, they don’t fully meet your unique vision needs.

Your optometrist may recommend prescription reading glasses for any of the following reasons: 

  • Customized fit: Over-the-counter reading glasses are a one size fits all option, making them uncomfortable if the lenses don’t align with your eyes properly—prescription lenses are custom-made for your eyes
  • Different lens strengths: Over-the-counter lens options are the same power in both lenses, meaning these reading glasses aren’t ideal if you require different prescriptions for each eye
  • Nearsightedness: Over-the-counter reading glasses don’t help if you have myopia—ready-made reading glasses typically have a positive prescription, while someone with myopia needs a negative prescription 
  • Quality: Your optometrist ensures prescription lenses don’t have any issues like distortions, waves, or bubbles—low-quality over-the-counter reading glasses may have these defects
  • Specific vision problems: Over-the-counter reading glasses don’t correct astigmatism, but prescription lenses can

While over-the-counter reading glasses can seem like a convenient grab-and-go option, they aren’t made with your eyes in mind. With your eye doctor’s help, you can get a pair of reading glasses that help you see clearly and comfortably when completing close-up tasks. Contact your optometrist if you’re interested in reading glasses or have presbyopia symptoms.

Written by Dr. Mark Yeghiazarian

Dr. Mark was born and raised in San Francisco. During his time at UCLA as a psychobiology major, he spent many hours shadowing various optometry offices. These offices demonstrated the unique and close-knit patient-doctor relationships forged in optometry, unlike any other profession. His newfound passion fueled him to attend the Southern California College of Optometry, where he graduated in May of 2018 with Summa Cum Laude Latin Honors.
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