Reading Glasses 101

Last Updated on April 28, 2023 by amy

Reading glasses: perhaps you’ve never given them thought because your eyes have always been a solid 20/20. But now you’re noticing a change in your vision, and find yourself struggling to read. We usually notice it on restaurant menus, manuals, or other materials with fine print. As you strain your eyes to read the words clearly, a horrible feeling dawns upon you as you realize you might have to sport a pair of those awful pre-fabricated reading glasses from the drugstore.

You try and rationalize for a second, telling yourself that it won’t be so bad wearing reading glasses—that it’ll only be when you’re reading and that apart from when you’re reading, those glasses will never see the light of day.

Maybe you’re thinking that this scenario is a bit exaggerated. Surely getting reading glasses isn’t as bad as it sounds, right? Well, it largely depends on how you look at it, so the short answer to that question is yes and no. But we’ll look at things you might want to know about reading glasses.

The choice of glasses at the drug store is referred to as pre-fabricated glasses, non-prescription glasses, or over-the-counter glasses. As you might assume, they are reading ready-made glasses. To put it simply, they are like magnifying glasses mounted in frames.

An undeniable strength of prefabricated reading glasses is their price point. They are probably the cheapest selection of glasses you will ever find. You can probably buy many pairs without being too concerned about the cost. Because they’re cost-effective, you can lay multiple around the house or at the office.

To make things better, pre-fabricated reading glasses are probably also the easiest to obtain. They’re readily available at the local store, and there’s minimal time involved in their purchase—try them on, and if it works, great.

The downsides and limitations to pre-fabricated reading glasses are their quality and durability. They are generically manufactured, so over-the-counter glasses will not accommodate or be tailor-fit to a specific vision, and this can be more of a hindrance than an aid. If you look at the glasses at the store, they will generally have a range of +1 to +4 diopters in increments of +.25 in both lenses. These are simply the magnifying power of the lenses. Many people do not have the same level of vision in both eyes, which is why many people opt for prescription glasses.

Generally speaking, reading glasses are limited to precisely that—reading. Mostly, people do not usually handle reading glasses too roughly or wear them to intense physical activities. Still, something to keep in mind is that reading glasses tend to be more fragile since they are made of cheaper materials. Every so often, parts might come loose, like the nose pads on the bridge or the screws on the arm. But then again, they don’t cost that much, so you could technically buy another one without hurting your wallet.

One of the basic things to know about reading glasses is that they are not limited to the selection available at a local drugstore.

If generic-strength reading glasses are not cutting it, prescription reading glasses are always available. Prescription glasses are typically better because they are tailored to a person’s specific needs in vision. As discussed, pre-fabricated reading glasses utilize the same prescription for both lenses. Most people do not have the same prescription for both eyes, so ready-made glasses may cause headaches, eye strain, and even nausea which can be extremely frustrating when you’re trying to have a relaxing read or watch funny cat videos.

Even though the local drugstore’s selection of styles in ready-made reading glasses might be somewhat tolerable, it’s still no match for the customized designs of an eyewear store or an online shop. If you want to match your eyewear with your chic outfit or look, prescription reading glasses might be the way to go.

But as with pre-fabricated reading glasses, prescription ones have a downside—prescription lenses will cost more. The cost factor means you probably can’t buy multiple to put around the house or the office because they’re not as expendable. And because they won’t come as cheap as drug store readers, you’ll want to keep better track of them and ensure you don’t forget them at the café.

Despite the price point, prescription reading glasses exhibit higher quality than ready-made ones, so you can expect them to be a lot more durable; there’s less maintenance involved, and the screws or nose pads won’t come apart as easily.

The other inconvenience that prescription reading glasses pose apart from the cost is time and availability. Getting prescription reading glasses is not like walking into a convenience store and buying a candy bar. Since prescription glasses are specifically tailored to your vision, you do have to go through an eye exam to see exactly what prescription you need. This means going to the eye doctor and subsequently going to the shop and browsing through the endless selection of glasses.

When first getting reading glasses, it’s pretty easy to get caught up in things that people tell you or some things that you might read on the internet. There are a lot of myths that are pretty convincing and seem pretty reasonable.

Take, for instance, the idea that wearing over-the-counter glasses can hurt or damage your eyes. It seems reasonable at face value: over-the-counter glasses are generically manufactured, not properly hand-crafted, they’re cheap, and no medical professional prescribes them. But contrary to what people say, they don’t and really can’t damage the eyes.

When you try on the reading glasses at a local drugstore and your eyes hurt, it might seem like something is going wrong. Don’t worry, your eyes are fine. They’re not imploding or exploding, and your brain is not liquefying. Yes, your eyes or head might hurt, but they’re not used to the random prescription you just put on. But this doesn’t mean that your eyes are being damaged. Reading glasses and glasses, in general, are a means of compensating for the misalignment of your biological lens, so wearing the wrong prescription does not alter your eye’s biological or physical makeup.

Some other strains of this myth, like wearing reading glasses or glasses in general, will weaken your eyes or that not wearing reading glasses will worsen your vision. As with the first myth, these are completely false. Glasses are an external aid and, as mentioned, have nothing to do with the biological alteration of the eye. Just as they cannot cure problems with vision, they cannot cause problems with vision.

Well, we’ve gotten pretty far in the discussion about reading glasses. But maybe you’re not entirely sure if you need them. Perhaps you pride yourself on the title of 20/20 vision and for a good reason. Regardless, there are a couple of tests that can indicate whether or not you might need glasses.

The Diopter Test: Diopter refers to an optical power or the strength of a magnifying lens. The test contains rows of words ranging from small to large, with a prescription for each line. For instance, the chart might say, “If you can read this, select Diopter ‘x’” as the text gets bigger as you progress toward the bottom. You might need some readers if you’re having trouble reading some of the text.

The Book Test: If you notice that you’re holding a book further and further away from your face just to read, it may indicate that you need reading glasses. If the book is 10 to 12 inches from your face or you feel that your arms can’t extend enough to adjust for your eyes, it’s a pretty significant sign that you might need reading glasses.

The Task Test: Straining to do tasks like sewing, cooking, drawing, or playing cards because your eyes indicate it’s time to get some glasses. Frequent headaches or tired eyes while performing these tasks also suggest that you need glasses.

Above all, the best way to determine if you truly need reading glasses is to go to a professional, take an eye exam, and ask for the doctor’s opinion. Based on medical advice, you can get non-prescription or prescription reading glasses. Either way, there’s no real bad choice—going one way or the other is just based on your needs in terms of cost, style, and, most importantly, your vision.