From "Four Eyes" To "Gramps"
October 7, 2012 8:16 AM   Subscribe

I walked away from my last visit to the optometrist with a prescription for bifocals. All for the low low price of $20. The bruises on my ego were free.

Since then, I have been shopping around for good prices on progressive lenses. The term "good prices" is proving relative as the best quotes I've been able to rustle up have been $300 for polycarbonates and $380 for the new-fangled high index variety. This is uncharted territory for me so I'm turning to you all for help. Here are my questions:

1. Is it worth the extra money to get the high-index lenses rather than the polycarbonates? Will this make a difference in the quality of the lenses and my vision? I have polycarbonates now and they're fairly thick but not coke-bottle thick. I also have some astigmatism in the right eye. I'm just wondering what exactly it is I'm getting for my eighty bucks.

2. The stores where I've been shopping are in Chinatown. Specifically, the Manhattan Chinatown. How much room for negotiation is there in these prices? How much bargaining power do I have?

3. I'm considering getting an extra pair of monofocal glasses with the reading prescription. Would using these impede my efforts to acquire the motor skills and habits involved in learning how to use multifocal lenses properly? The analogy that comes to mind is learning how to type. If you do 85-90% of your work on the QWERTY keyboard and a little bit of your work on a Dvorak keyboard, would that trip you up and confuse you?

4. Any other tips, anecdotes and advice concerning my transition to the wide and wonderful world of multifocals, being addressed as "sir" and the Early Bird Special at Denny's would be welcome. Many thanks in advance.

Oh, before I forget -- purchasing eyeglasses online is not an option I'm interested in pursuing. My unique set of optical issues does not lend itself to care from half a world away; I need to deal with these in person.
posted by jason's_planet to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Well I just couldn't get on with varifocals when I tried them and I don't like my bifocals much either. In fact I regret them; in future I'll have two separate pairs of glasses. Peering at close-up things through the bottom of my lenses - like at a supermarket shelf or row of books - feels so aging! What's more I have to use a hand to support the glasses on my face in order to get the right angle to look at my laptop through them.

Is there any way you can have some sort of test drive of the new lenses before you spend all that money? It took me about a week to thoroughly dislike my new glasses and by then it was too late.
posted by glasseyes at 8:30 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1. I have the high index lenses and it makes a huge difference to the thickness of the lens, but no difference to the quality of vision. This also affects the choice of frames available because, for example, if you just have the polycarbonate lenses a lot of the rimless or semi-rimless styles look like crap because the lenses are too thick.

3. I should wear varifocals all the time but my favourite frames are too shallow for them so they're single-vision lenses glazed with my main prescription. If you need glasses for everyday use, then wearing glasses withonly the reading prescription is just going to make everything look bigger - because the reading prescription is your current prescription plus magnification of +1, or +1.50, or +2.00, etc. You might find it more useful to have a pair of monofocals glazed with your main prescription - you can increase the font size on most digital media to make reading easier.

4. It takes a little bit of getting used to at first when you're doing something wearing varifocals that require you to look down - such as walking down an escalator or stepping off the kerb, but the brain soon adjusts with no problem.
posted by essexjan at 8:34 AM on October 7, 2012

High index, as noted above, makes the lenses much thinner. I have really bad eyes and getting high index is worth every extra penny. Ask them to polish the edges. Instead of frosted glass looking they'll be clear and much less noticeable when viewed from the side.

The learning curve is like five minutes. Be careful when going down stairs. Adjust the distance to your monitor so you are looking through the sweet spot with your head at the right angle.
posted by fixedgear at 8:43 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I got my first pair of glasses ever a couple of months ago they were varifocal ones. It took me a grand total of maybe a day to get used to wearing them without tripping down stairs and maybe another week to get the hang of just where to put my head for optimal focus for whatever I'm doing and now pretty much just tilt my head as needed without thinking.

I paid about $350 all up for lenses but I got the whole transitions tinting thing on my lenses as well.

I also got a pair of prescription monofocal sunglasses for driving and I can switch back and forth between the two without more than a moment or twos confusion at first. So I suspect you won't have any problems switching back and forth.

This said I am a new glasses wearer and I don't have a super strong prescription. though do have a pretty bad astigmatism in one eye. Now if I could just figure out how to clean my glasses without scratching them I'd be happy.
posted by wwax at 8:51 AM on October 7, 2012

Best answer: Age seventy--so I have had substantial experience with bifocals/trifocals/etc. My present solution--two pairs of glasses. One for driving and one for reading. Driving and distance vision is prescription--optical quality, non glare, OTC for reading and computer. Watch those stairs and dismounting from your bicycle when getting used to bifocals. `BTW, it may not apply to you but non glare reading glasses have made a significant difference in my vision. Letters and type much crisper.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:58 AM on October 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I've got high index bifocals; as noted above, they're way thinner, and yeah, that does make a heck of a difference with your frames.

Learning curve for bifocals was minimal; although I'd suggest that you choose either the ones with the visible demarcation line or the 'invisible' progressives and then stick with that style: I've heard from a couple of people that changing from one type of bifocal to the other is harder than from single-vision to bifocals in the first place.

I wear my bifocals for pretty much everything (reading, computer work, driving, etc.), although I do have a pair of single-prescription sunglasses --- I've very near-sighted, so I just have the distance-correction for the sunglasses.
posted by easily confused at 8:59 AM on October 7, 2012

Yeah, single vision (distance) only polarized sunglasses for driving, if you do that. It's worth it.
posted by fixedgear at 9:16 AM on October 7, 2012

My experience has been very similar to that of glasseyes above. I regret getting the multifocal lenses, and won't be getting them again. One thing to consider is your range of activity. If you're frequently shifting focus between objects near and far, that's one thing. But if you spend 90% of your time staring at a book or a computer screen, as I do, it's too limiting to have only a portion of the lens given over to the close-range part of the prescription.

If you do decide to go for bifocal /multifocal lenses after all, then I would say the high-index lenses are worth it from an aesthetic but not a functional perspective.
posted by muhonnin at 9:17 AM on October 7, 2012

Best answer: I can't help you with picking bifocals. I'm 37, so I have about 3 more years before I start holding my Kindle further away. But I have been wearing heavy prescription glasses since I was a kid, and I can tell you that I've never had a problem with any glasses I've ever gotten from eyeglass warehouses Sears, LensCrafters, and so on. They regularly run specials where you can get two pairs of glasses for x dollars, or 30% off, or whathaveyou. You will still be paying a pretty penny once you start adding special options on top, like high index vs. polycarbs.

My parents both wear the bifocal contacts and loved them after they wore them for a couple of days. They also both went through a stage where they wore regular contacts and had reading glasses, before bifocal contacts were a Thing. I know you didn't mention contacts as an option, but I'm just throwing that out there.
posted by xyzzy at 9:41 AM on October 7, 2012

Ask them to polish the edges. Instead of frosted glass looking they'll be clear and much less noticeable when viewed from the side.

Nooo, don't do this; depending on your prescription/the curvature of the lenses, you may end up seeing rainbows everywhere when the polished edges refract the light. Apparently edge-polishing is standard practice at my local eyeglass place, which I found out the hard way. It was so immediately distracting, I brought the glasses back the next day to have the edges reground to the standard frosted appearance.
posted by limeonaire at 10:15 AM on October 7, 2012

Another option is glass bifocals instead of plastic bifocals. Plastic bifocals have a distinct step between the two halves and as a result a relatively wide blurry area at the junction. Glass bifocals have an almost invisible line that does not disturb your vision and there is no blurry area between halves. Glass lenses are somewhat heavier than plastic but that can be offset somewhat by titanium frames. If you want good bifocals, go for glass. If you want progressives, then you have no choice and they must be plastic.
posted by JackFlash at 10:37 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few years ago, I gave up wearing any glasses (some time after I gave up driving -- I realized I did not absolutely need them if I wasn't driving). My recollection though is that being able to have a fairly large lens and little to no rim really helped me cope with bifocals. So I paid extra to make that happen. And thinner is better overall. Thick lenses are more prone to leaving marks on your nose and ears, sliding down your nose due to weight, etc.

If it helps your ego any, I was given a prescription for bifocals on my thirtieth birthday. Three years later when I got a new prescription, the lady fitting my second set of bifocals said over and over and over (and over) "God, you are so young to be getting bifocals." God, I was so glad she didn't fit me at age thirty.
posted by Michele in California at 11:16 AM on October 7, 2012

Best answer: Good opticians will let you exchange progressive (multifocals) if you don't like them. There are a lot of different brands with different characteristics. If you get progressives rather than bifocals, there won't be a visible line - it's just a progressive transition between the areas, so there's no way people can tell that you're wearing them, unless they're not very good and you keep having to move your head to find where to focus. My personal experience is that it's worth it go to go a really good optician and get the help that you need. Also, the height of your frames will make a difference - too short and you won't have enough room for the progressiveness.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 11:51 AM on October 7, 2012

Best answer: Don't go cheap on progressive lenses. The cheaper ones have a narrow "progressive power corridor" to look through, one that's so narrow that you have to turn your face from side to side just to finish reading a single line in a book. The more expensive ones allow you to have the whole line in focus at once, so you don't have to be ping-ponging your head from side to side just to read a book. The glasses with the wider progressive power corridor are more expensive but it's worth it. See if you can find a good price on the better progressive lenses. Don't think that you're getting a bargain when you find the lower-quality ones at a lower price.
posted by Ery at 11:58 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another young 'un with bifocals here- I've actually had them from the first time I was prescribed glasses, which was...3rd grade. I made the switch to progressives in 6th or 7th grade? (I'm now in my late 20's). I have always had bicarbonate lenses once I made the transition from dorky, huge plastic frames to low-profile, metal, semi-rimless ones, and the thickness has not been an issue. However, on my latest glasses hunt, I was considering going back to a full frame, and I feel like the hi-index might be necessary to avoid the lens from protruding noticeably over the edge of the frame in its thickest diameters. I have a pair of prescription sunglasses (and contacts, for that matter) that are single-vision (the minus number, NOT the magnified reading part, since I am naturally near-sighted) and don't find it confusing at all to switch back and forth. I found it really intuitive to learn the different parts of the frame for reading vs. distance, and for what it's worth, since I favor slighter, less-tall frames, my corridor is a pretty swift transition. I find having too wide of a gradation makes it harder for me to find the right spot, as more of the frame is a weird middle-man's land of not-quite-right.
posted by alygator at 12:08 PM on October 7, 2012

Glasses wearer for 40+ years here:

1. You only need the very high index lenses if your prescription is more than 3.5 to 4.5 diopters or so. Below that the thickness issue is irrelevant. Regarding quality: high diopter prescriptions on high refractive lenses lead to a greater degree of chromatic aberration particularly at the edges of the lenses. I've noticed bluish rainbow rings on high refractive lenses around bright objects which annoy me so I tend to go for the middle of the ground refractive lenses instead.

2. Try the link I provided will get you another 10% off your order. I've bought from them twice and have had amazing results at 1/2 to 1/3 the price of store-bought. There are monopolistic reasons why your lens prices are so high - circumvents this issue. Unless you get the very cheapest lenses your order won't be 39dollars :( but it will be about half the cost of lenses and frames at the store.

3 & 4 : I tried progressive multifocals and didn't like them. I have a very wide field of view and the various different scripts in different parts of the lens annoyed me. Too much of what I was able to see was out of focus . This may be limited to me because a lot (most people ) do like multifocals. Instead I opted for the line showing bifocals which worked better for me. Be aware that you have that option as well.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 12:39 PM on October 7, 2012

I've never worn them, but they do make multifocal contact lenses. People I know with them absolutely love them. Maybe worth trying if your optometrist can fit you?
posted by zachlipton at 3:25 PM on October 7, 2012

Best answer: FYI I tried several brands of multifocal contact lenses and haven't found one yet that gave me decent vision in low light or nighttime situations.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 4:07 PM on October 7, 2012

ummmm, jackflash? That bit about plastic lenses all have the step between the upper and lower prescriptions, and glass lenses NOT having that? I hate to have to disagree, but I'm wearing plastic bifocals right now, and HAVE worn plastic bifocals for almost a decade: NONE of them have had a visible line. Sorry.
posted by easily confused at 4:12 PM on October 7, 2012

Best answer: I wear Progressives and have for years. I'm in NYC and after I got my last new prescription, I went to Moscot for groovy frames and took them to Costco for much more reasonably priced lenses. Costco is so much less expensive for lenses that it even pays to get a membership just for this! I also found the service excellent.
posted by Pineapplicious at 4:33 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm wearing plastic bifocals right now, and HAVE worn plastic bifocals for almost a decade: NONE of them have had a visible line.

You are probably talking about what is called a "blended" bifocal or Younger bifocal. Some people like these, but there are two compromises. The transition is smeared to remove the ledge which means some distortion at the transition. The other is that the top of the of the insert is rounded rather than straight so that the eye has to move farther to get to the central, sweet spot of the lower lens. This type of bifocal compromises to reduce the visibility of the bifocal to outside observers at the expense of slightly worse optical characteristics for the wearer.

All types of multifocal lenses are a series of compromises. I prefer glass bifocals that have very sharp and near perfect optical characteristics for both halves with no sub-optimal transition in between. The drawback is that they are slightly heavier. It's a matter of choices. There is no one solution for everyone.
posted by JackFlash at 5:40 PM on October 7, 2012

Response by poster: Yesterday, I went shopping for the specs in question. I was planning on getting the multifocals but an optician at one of Chinatown's oldest and most reputable shops presented me with a second opinion. He didn't think that multifocals were appropriate for me at this time because of the low power of the reading prescription and the blurred vision that users experience at the side of the lens. He said that I would be better off with a two-glasses solution for now and possibly exploring my multifocal options at some point in the future.

So I ordered a pair with my main prescription and will be hitting up the hipsters at Warby Parker for a pair of reading glasses. I give that gentleman a lot of credit. He sacrificed a couple hundred dollars in revenue to provide me with good service and professional judgment.

Thanks to everyone who shared advice and experience!
posted by jason's_planet at 1:09 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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