How Much Do You Really Need To Spend On Reading Glasses?

Does price matter? Two optometrists weigh in.

A woman sitting on a couch reading with reading glasses on.

(Photo: iStock)

There are few certainties in life, but according to experts, reading glasses are one of them.

That’s because as we get older, we experience a gradual loss of the eyes’ focusing abilities—a condition known as presbyopia. “Our focusing system starts to change once we get into our 40s,” explains Mahnia Madan, an optometrist based in Vancouver. The muscle that controls the lens inside our eyes begins to lose strength and it becomes harder to see things clearly up close.

“The problem gets worse as the years go by,” adds Melissa Yuen, an optometrist based in Toronto. “Reading glasses give you that magnification that the lens in the eye is no longer able to generate.”

Reading glasses are offered in a wide range of styles and prices, from drugstore brands that go for a few dollars, to designer specs that cost hundreds. Here, we break down when to get reading glasses, how to pick them out, and what kind is best for you. (Plus, some cute options at varying prices!)

How do you know when you need reading glasses?

Generally, people begin to need reading glasses as they enter their 40s. Here are some signs that it’s time to buy a pair.

If you notice things up close are getting blurry, you’re requiring more time and more light when reading, or you have fatigue or headaches after reading for a long period, you may need reading glasses, says Madan. “These are all signs that tell us the focusing system is changing and we might need some more help up close.”

Alfred Sung Reading Glasses

When symptoms like this begin, Yuen and Madan say it’s important to have an eye exam to check if there are other underlying health issues. If you’re having trouble focusing, conditions like dry eyes or macular degeneration—a disorder that causes blurred central vision—could be at play. Aside from assessing your eye health, an optometrist can give you the right measurements for your face and tell you what level of reading glasses to purchase.

Are over-the-counter reading glasses safe?

The reading glasses available at your local drugstore or dollar store are perfectly safe, say Yuen and Madan. They’re just lower quality, and not the most effective.

“The glasses that are over the counter are very simple magnifiers,” says Madan. “They are equal in each eye; one size fits all. They won’t account for where your eyes sit in your head, or what your visual needs are. Whereas when you get prescription eyeglasses, they are made very accurately to suit your exact needs.” While over-the-counter glasses can tide you over initially, Yuen says they can eventually cause eyestrain, because each eye generally requires a unique prescription.

To get the most out of drugstore glasses, have your eyes evaluated first. The doctor can then give you a number—such as +1.00 or +3.50—that indicates what strength-level lenses your eyes need.

If you’re in a pinch, you can also test your vision in-store. To do this, Yuen suggests taking something that you want to read and holding it at a comfortable distance. Then, try on different reading glasses, increasing by +0.25 increments, until it comes into focus. “Just make sure you start off with the lowest prescription,” she says. “Because you don’t want to overcorrect.”

ArtMinds Floral Reading Glasses

Over-the-counter specs are a cheaper, accessible alternative to prescription reading glasses. And sometimes, they’re the more suitable choice. If your near-vision tasks are short, like browsing recipes or reading on your laptop for 15 minutes, Madan says drugstore glasses are generally a good fit. If you wear contact lenses and are looking for a crisper image when reading, over-the-counter ready readers are a good option then too, says Yuen.

“But if you’re working on a computer for more than two to three hours a day, that requires specific eyeglasses to make sure that you are seeing well and it’s not having a negative impact on your vision,” Madan explains.

Andre In Tobacco

How much do prescription glasses cost?

Prescription readers are pricier than over-the-counter brands, but the exact cost will depend on what quality frame/lenses you want, how often you’ll be wearing them and your aesthetic preferences. “It’s a really personal question for everyone,” says Madan. “But I would say on the lower end, something decent quality would be $30 to $40, and an average [higher] quality pair could be $200 to $300.”

Many glasses retailers, such as Canadian companies Kits and Clearly (where Yuen works), offer inexpensive options available for purchase online. When ordering a pair, you can input your prescription and even try on glasses virtually to see if they’re a fit.

Main And Central Seaholme-50

How long will a pair of reading glasses last?

Starting in your 40s, the magnifying strength your eyes require goes up every decade until you reach about 60, says Madan. As a general rule, both Yuen and Madan say you should have your eyes reassessed roughly every two years to see if it’s time for a different strength level.

Ray-Ban Glasses

“Every year the focusing structure [in the eye] loses its flexibility, and you become less and less able to generate power to help you focus up close,” says Yuen. “That’s why the prescription gets higher and higher.”

These changes are natural, and not a result of your eyes’ dependence on glasses. “Reading glasses cannot worsen or make your vision better over time,” Madan explains. “They simply remove the strain that you would feel when you’re trying to focus up close without them.”

How often should you wear reading glasses?

Because they’re meant for up-close tasks, reading glasses shouldn’t be worn all the time. If you want glasses for reading and seeing from a distance, Yuen and Madan suggest opting for progressives, which allow you to see close and far.

Miklos Reading Glasses

“The top part of the [progressive] lens has your distance vision in it, and the bottom part has your reading glasses,” says Madan. “So it prevents people from having to take their glasses on and off all day.”

Do you need different reading glasses for computer use?

A computer screen tends to sit further away from your eyes than a book, so it usually requires reading glasses with lower strength. If your glasses have low magnifying power, they can work for the computer, says Yuen. But as your strength level increases over time, they won’t be suitable for the screen, and you will need a separate pair of readers. For regular reading and computer use, she recommends computer progressives—which focus on the computer screen and up-close reading only, instead of far distances. These allow you to view your computer at a comfortable distance while maintaining a natural posture, so you don’t have to hunch over the screen to read it.

What about blue light glasses?

Blue light glasses block the excessive blue light emitted from screens that cause alertness. Believed by some to improve sleep and prevent eyestrain, they have risen in popularity over the past few years. But their effectiveness is still up for debate.

Studies have associated symptoms [of eyestrain and headaches] with the excess blue light emitted by LED screens. So a blue reflect coating was formulated to essentially filter out the extra blue light,” says Yuen, who recommends these to patients who deal with digital eyestrain.

LifeArt Blue Light Blocking Computer Reading Glasses

“There still isn’t any great scientific evidence that tells us that blue light really protects us from computer vision syndrome or any harmful light from the computer,” Madan says. However, she notes that some patients prefer the toned-down light when reading on devices. So really, it’s up to personal preference.

When it comes to buying reading glasses, the most important thing is having the right prescription, which is why Yuen and Madan both recommend seeing your eye doctor first.

“Always seek help when you notice these [vision] issues. A lot of people persist for years on their own either by enlarging the font [on their screen], using a magnifying glass or even getting someone else to read for them,” says Yuen. “To get rid of that strain, frustration and burden, it’s important to get your eyes examined.”

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