The Eyes No Longer Have It
February 16, 2015 3:59 PM   Subscribe

All my life, I've had perfect vision. I'm 44, and finally starting to feel like I need vision correction of some sort. Glasses? Contacts? Unlock these mysteries for me, please.

There are a couple of separate but related issues leading me to this decision.

#1: For a couple of years now, I've noticed that it's taking me longer to change focal planes. Read book or phone, look up at blurry world around me, wait..., vision clears. That's why people get bifocals and/or reading glasses, right? I've resisted doing so because I believe that the little tiny muscles doing the focusing will atrophy if I pamper them with corrective optics. I know that's maybe a bit ridiculous. Feel free to read it in a harsh Teutonic accent, if it helps.

#2: In the last year or so, I've noticed that, independent of the focal-plane issue, I have trouble reading road signs as far off as my children and even vision-corrected middle-aged friends can. It doesn't seem to clear up if I wait - I'm simply unable to bring the text into focus at that distance. This is why people get prescription glasses or contacts, right? I recently tried a friend's (mild prescription) glasses on, and they cleared up middle-distance details noticeably. Hmm....

#3: I work with computers for a living, and I've noticed lately that fatigue seems to affect how well I see. Reading things up close is harder later in the day.

So, off to the eye doc to get.... um? Do I want glasses, contacts, both? What factors should I consider in that decision? I don't have any hang-ups about wearing frames, but I am willing to learn to poke myself in the eyeballs, too, if it yields better quality of life. I ride bikes daily and mountain bike and play soccer occasionally, so the smaller corrected field one gets with glasses (right?) and impact safety issues might be a bummer.

Oh, and what about sunglasses? Cripes, hadn't thought about sunglasses.

TL;DR I have been sheltered by a lifetime of clear-eyed privilege. Help me understand what I face in the next 50 years of eye ownership. Thanks!
posted by richyoung to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you get contacts, you can buy off-the-rack, non-prescription sunglasses. No problem.

If you need bifocals (progressives), contacts can be a bit trickier. I've kind of dumped my contacts for most things in which I'd be expected to read, because they don't handle reading well without readers, but I know there are solutions for that.

Otherwise, the only factor is what you want to look like. Also, you should have a pair of glasses at the ready whenever your contacts aren't comfortable, aren't available, or you just need a rest from contacts. I don't know anyone who has contacts who doesn't also have a pair of at least emergency glasses.
posted by xingcat at 4:15 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Is a lot of your biking done while it's raining? Glasses can be kind of a pain in the ass when it's raining. Then again, there's not a lot of reading you have to do on a mountain bike trail I imagine, so you might be able to just leave the glasses off for sports stuff if your prescription is mild enough that it doesn't bother you.
posted by MsMolly at 4:20 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Forgot to mention, your eye doctor should be able to let you try a sample pair of whatever contact lens prescription you need (and will help you practice putting them in and taking them out in the office), so you don't have to decide between contacts or glasses immediately at the appointment.
posted by MsMolly at 4:22 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

How dry is the weather where you live? I wore contacts (hard contacts, then soft when they came out) until I moved to a location where the air is VERY dry. That was it - I felt like the contacts were sitting on my eye with no lubrication, and my eyes hurt and were always red and bloodshot. I switched to glasses, which solved the problem. If you get Transitions lenses that automatically darken in the sun, separate sunglasses would be unnecessary.

Good luck! You'll enjoy the change with vision correction.
posted by summerstorm at 4:24 PM on February 16, 2015

I've been through this, including the starting w/ perfect vision part. Just got some glasses for computer work, reading, etc. and they work well. However, I do forget to wear them a lot, and you have to carry them around with you. My non-closeup vision is still good, so I didn't think contacts were for me.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:34 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Even if you get contacts you should own a pair of glasses for backup. You can make them give you your pd (pupillary distance) and order cheapo glasses online (see the last couple of threads here for recommendations) if you want.

It's unlikely that your eyesight has gotten so bad (without your noticing) that you can't drive without corrective lenses, which is the point at which you have to care more about all-day vision correction, so you probably have some time to decide what you prefer.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:35 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I only wear my glasses for driving (and even riding in the car), but stare at a computer screen most of the day with naked eyes.

For sunglasses at the very least -- absolutely get your prescription and have them measure your PD as well. Eye doc places sometimes require a little prodding to measure this for you because they know why you want it -- that is, to buy glasses online and not from them. But I buy all my prescription sunglasses online cheaply - i prefer zenni optical but there are several options. Online is the only way for me, given how often I lose/sit on/scratch my sunglasses.
posted by cgg at 4:43 PM on February 16, 2015

Husbunny went from 20/20 to needing bifocals.

I would have worn contacts if I didn't have horrible astigmatism and double-vision due to lazy eye. Husbunny decided frames were easier than dealing with lenses.

Talk to your optometrist about what makes sense for your prescription.

Also, pay extra for retinal mapping. It's cool.

A fun thing I did last year was discover that I had narrow angle glaucoma. Good times! Laser surgery in both eyes! Completely asymptomatic and only discoverable with an eye exam.

You need to go every year!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:47 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

A non-medical consideration: glasses are totally stylish. This could open up a whole new realm of accessorizing! You might even like to have a couple pairs in very different styles.
posted by congen at 4:52 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I started down my road to severe myopia and astigmatism in junior high school, so have gone through all the iterations of glasses, contacts, contacts and glasses, soft contacts, rigid gas permable (RGP) lenses...

1) If you go with contacts, you'll lose your squeamishness about eyeball-poking with remarkable speed.

2) If you only need corrections in certain situations, it may be more convenient to just get glasses.

3) There are, alas, no contact lenses that magically morph into sunglasses when exposed to light, so there's that. OTOH, you can just wear regular sunglasses over contacts.

4) Soft contact lenses have the benefit of extended-wear options and are easier to insert/remove than RGP lenses. (It's also a lot easier to buy cleaning and storage solutions for soft contacts; some stores don't even bother stocking anything for RGP wearers!) That being said, they're also more liable to cause infections than RGP lenses and easier to damage.

5) It doesn't sound like you need RGP lenses, which also come in multifocal format (what I'm wearing right now). I actually find them more comfortable than soft contacts (for starters, they're less inclined to curl up and wander off to random corners of my eye during high winds). RGPs do require a longer learning curve than soft contacts, as you feel them until your inner eyelids toughen up a bit, and while they're less likely to give you annoying infections than SCs (see above), they're more likely to give you the occasional scratch.

6) One benefit of glasses: you will not scream loudly if an eyelash gets in your eye, as is unfortunately the case with any type of contact lens.

7) As Ruthless Bunny says, once your vision starts having issues, you should absolutely go to the optometrist every year.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:57 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Another thought. If you want to save money and hassle on sunglasses, get Transitions, they automatically activate into sunglasses when you get outside. You'll save money on frames and if you have bifocals you'll save HUGE money on a second pair of lenses.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:58 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Glasses are a lot simpler than contacts, and less likely to damage your eyes. Far as I know, the only reason to wear contacts instead of glasses is for appearances' sake.

Once you get a prescription, you can get cheap glasses through Zenni Optical. Not a big investment to see how you like them.

Look into adjustable focus glasses. I've heard they are much less annoying to use in daily life than bifocals. Instead of having your vision split into top and bottom sections, you just turn a little gizmo and the glasses adjust their focus. I see they're on the Aldens site for $29 a pair. (Haven't tried them myself, so don't consider this an endorsement!)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:01 PM on February 16, 2015

I would get glasses no matter what. You are going to want them if your eyes are too irritated for contacts, tired or to have something easy to put on quickly in the middle of the night when you need to.

Personally, I got contacts and I hated putting them in, I hated the way they felt, and I hated that I had to worry about rubbing my eyes or getting makeup on my eye. Personally, I like the way glasses look. But they aren't for everyone, so maybe you will want contacts.

That being said, I got glasses for #2 on your list. It's not as if I was unsafe to drive, but things far away were a bit fuzzy. Getting glasses was just better for things like driving, seeing a movie/play, sitting in a lecture, etc. I still opt to take them off when I'm working closely from my computer for a long time because I just like to give my eyes a "rest." With contacts, you will not be able to take them on and off. So I would start with glasses and see if your eyes feel better with glasses on all the time or if they are best if you only use them in certain situations.

You can get prescription sunglasses at any eyeglasses store or, if you want to save serious bucks, online through one of those retailers. (Have a doctor measure your pupillary distance before ordering.) I have used Classic Specs (kind of like Warby Parker), which is for young/semi-hip folk. But there are even much cheaper options out there.

Laser or some sort of permanent fix is an option, but not yet. I believe your vision needs to be relatively stable for a while as to not have a medical procedure that will be useless in a year's time. It sounds like you just started developing this problems, so I don't think you can do anything permanent quite yet.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:11 PM on February 16, 2015

Piggybacking on this to ask - if the problem is occasionally having a problem with small print when it's close up, even though you've been also recently tested at 20/20 (and in fact one of your eyes is 20/10, even), would those basic reading glasses you sometimes see in drug stores be the thing?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:19 PM on February 16, 2015

I had the exact same thing happen to me a few years ago, right down to the late day fatigue. My distance vision was the only issue, and still is. Helping that has helped the fatigue. As a result, I don't like lens correction at close range. Now, it's easier to take my glasses off when I eat or read, than it would be to fiddle around with contacts.

Also: It's VERY tempting to skip the eye pressure screening, with the pupil dilation and the weird little plasticine sunglasses and maybe even being told someone else has to come along to drive you home. Don't skip the eye pressure screening. There are a few different kinds of glaucoma and the earlier the detection, the better.
posted by gnomeloaf at 5:36 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I started getting reading glasses at the drug store when I was around your age. Now I also have glasses just for driving, I could see far stuff but couldn't read the road signs easily and at night things sparkled a bit too much. I got driving glasses with some kind of anti-glare coating and they work well on sunny days. I just leave them in the car so I always have them there.
posted by mareli at 5:38 PM on February 16, 2015

I have your EXACT symptoms. Mine started at age 39. Went to the doc, and turned out to be eyestrain. My actual vision is about 20/30, but so much screen time is cause intense difficult when trying to refocus on further distances. The primary thing my doctor suggested was breaks from the computer. But she did give me a gentle prescription for glasses that I wear for distance activities (driving, concerts, projected work presentations). I'm not sure that contacts would have been an option, but I actually didn't ask. Two years later, I'm in exactly the same boat. My prescription hasn't changed, and my eyesight hasn't worsened. But I'm still spending 8-10 hours a day in front of a computer, and that's the culprit. Since my glasses still do the job, I got prescription sunglasses for driving (I get a free pair every year as part of my vision plan).
posted by kimdog at 5:50 PM on February 16, 2015

So, off to the eye doc to get.... um? Do I want glasses, contacts, both? What factors should I consider in that decision?

While you will have a least a few options, a lot of this is going to depend on what prescription you end up with.

If you end up fully needing bifocals you may be able to wear contacts. I did that for a few years, but eventually it became the worst of both worlds. For all contacts you should be able to get a free trial pair to test drive. If you go with contacts definitely get a back-up pair of glasses. There are times you just can't wear them, like if you get pink eye or something.

Don't rule out readers if that's all you really need. I think they even make "bifocal" readers now, where the lens is clear on the top. If you choose readers, get a bunch so you can have a pair everywhere and so you can replace them when they wander off. Because they do.

Oh and one good thing about contacts is you can get away with less expensive sunglasses, but ordering glasses online has mitigated this cost a little bit. In any event, you need to ask these questions after the exam to see what you actually need.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:59 PM on February 16, 2015

As someone a that had pretty much prefect vision until I turned 40 I can relate to where you are coming from. I initially got some eye exercises that put off needing glasses for a couple of years, but finally I had to face the inevitable. I went for the Transitions lenses someone else mentioned above, I am prone to light induced migraines and these are a life saver for me. What they dont' tell you is that they need UV light to make the transition so don't work well in cars so if you end up needing glasses to drive make sure to get a pair of sunglasses too if you like sunnies for driving.

Even if you get contacts, you'll need at least one pair of glasses for the days you can't or don't want to wear contacts. I'd also recommend a pair of readers if you do a lot of work on computers, contacts don't go great with the dry eyes that come from a lot of computer use.
posted by wwax at 6:02 PM on February 16, 2015

My two cents:

If I were a candidate for contacts I would jump at them. I love my glasses but what a PITA to see a movie in 3D plus it feels like I'm chained to them.

I have bifocals and progressives just don't work for me. I have a separate pair for computer/reading and reading/distance. And my sunglasses are reading/distance. And when I'm working out ( including running), I don't wear glasses at all. My vision lets me get by but don't ask me to read a map or anything.

Ask people you know who wear glasses or contacts who they go to. I've found a fantastic dr and a fantastic glasses source and they are not the same and I have lots of experience and Reasons that I share with anyone who asks because why should they go through years of false starts like I did?

Come to SF and I'll hook you up with the perfect glasses for your face. Oh right that's my last rec -- glasses are jewelry for the face. Buy all the pairs you need and never apologize.
posted by janey47 at 6:42 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

(I don't speak English as a first language so I may be getting some terms wrong.)

I'm 46. I have used weak, cheap reading glasses for a year or two, but I got sick of needing to carry them with me, and with taking them off and putting them on all the time. So when there was a good offer in my local store, I went to get my eyesight measured. It turned out that I mostly needed readers but I could stand some improvement in the distance as well.

So I got multifocals. They do a little bit in the top half and a bit more (but not the same thing) in the lower half and there is no visible seam in between. Everything is now crisp and sharp everywhere I look. It's nice.

I'm quite happy with them. I don't mind wearing glasses, it turns out. I'm okay with the way they look on me, and I can pretty much forget about them all day long. They make my eyes look a bit larger, which is not a bad thing. I ride a bicycle, but not in a sportive way, I'm not sure about you. In any case they don't give me problems on the bike.
You may want to get a cheap/sturdy pair with legs that curl around your ears for sports, if you need them during sportive activities at all. You may or you may not.
If you're happy with your glasses, and not interested in getting lenses, you can have a second pair made that's tinted, so you'll have sunglasses.

The woman who measured my eyesight said that I have 'above-40' eyes. It's that common.
So I would recommend that you go and get measured (over here, we do that at stores that sell glasses, I don't know what it's like where you are and whether you need to see an eye doctor), and tell the folks about the things you do regularly. They'll have a good grip on your options and the pros and cons.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:29 AM on February 17, 2015

Thanks so much, everybody! Ok, here's a recap of some of the very helpful things I've learned:
  • The nature of my prescription deterimines what options I have.
  • If I get contacts, I'd be a fool not to get glasses too. Got it.
  • There is more than one kind of contact lense - soft/rigid. They make bifocal (multifocal?) contacts.
  • Eye docs also test for glaucoma, so it's good to go every year. Got it.
  • Transitions™ auto-darkening lenses are great but they don't change without UV exposure.
  • There is such a thing as adjustable glasses [researches...] but they look a little dorky.
  • Armed with my prescription info and interpupillary distance measurements, I can buy glasses cheaply online.
  • Reading glasses might suffice - but in my case, I think I'm looking for help with distance, too.
  • Glasses will help with fatigue/eyestrain.
Things I still have questions about:
  • Most of my bicycling is gentle but year-round, all-weather commuting in Colorado. But I am a mountain biker, too. Any mountain bikers able to speak to glasses -vs- contacts? Concerned about constricted field of view with glasses, but also concerned about trail dust and bugs with contacts....
  • What about sports like soccer? I play 1-2 seasons of rec league soccer annually. Do I need those weird sports glasses? At least some people must be playing in contacts, right? Anyone able to address glasses -vs- contacts with regard to impact safety and vision on the field?
Again, thanks a ton to all who answered. There's so much good advice here!
posted by richyoung at 10:58 AM on February 17, 2015

Glasses + any bike riding = happy match because much fewer bugs and grit in the eyes. Glasses + any action sport calls for Croakies or one of million imitator.

You'll definitely get better field of view with contacts BUT you'll have to wear sunglasses/protective eyewear because contacts + bugs/dirt/grit = pain and eye damage.

The opticians (who actually make the glasses) generally try to upsell you. For your first glasses, you won't need
  1. lightweight lens material
  2. anti-glare coating
and you might consider
  • anti-scratch surface
  • spring hinges
  • several cases
Lenses get thicker the stronger the prescription. Your beginning Rx won't be thick enough to justify the higher cost.

While anti-glare is a nice function, it costs and also makes the glasses show fingerprints and wears off
posted by Jesse the K at 11:02 AM on February 17, 2015

Must disagree about anti-glare lens coating! It is not optional for me, and for lots of other people. I had to have my first pair of glasses mildly tinted brown after the fact because I didn't get anti-glare and couldn't wear them without getting nasty headaches. It was the only thing they could do and I couldn't afford to have new lenses made. Every pair I've had since has been coated.
posted by monopas at 11:18 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding monopas with the antiglare coating. Also get anti-scratch for your first pair of glasses, I scratched the crap out of my first pair. Got replacement lenses 4 months later covered by insurance (I paid extra for the insurance when I bought them as I am a klutz and forked out for expensive lenses) and these are now 18 months old and pretty scratch free as I've got the hang of this whole glasses thing. If you are really unsure about glasses etc I'd suggest paying the extra, if you can afford it, and getting your first pair at a bricks & mortar store with a good reputation. I got a lot of help from my store, adjustments trying on a billion frames they held my hand and answered all my questions. If you can afford it I think it is worth it. Having said that, I am due to go in for a check up & if my prescription changes will most likely get my new pairs of readers & spare prescription sunnies etc online etc online as I now know more.
posted by wwax at 12:35 PM on February 17, 2015

Just some late, probably irrelevant input, but your #1 was the first symptom of my dipoplia (double vision). I cannot wear contacts, my only options are glasses with thicker prism lenses or corrective surgery.
posted by that's how you get ants at 1:02 PM on February 17, 2015

I got transitions lenses and hated them. Most people I know that get them only get them once after they realize the limitations of them. In addition to only darkening with UV exposure (so generally not inside a car), they also take a long time to transition back to clear when you get into a dark(er) space, like indoors. Also, most frames that look good as glasses look funny as sunglasses and vice versa, if you ask me.

Another thing to consider with contacts is that if you have allergies, it can be very hard to wear contacts while your allergies are acting up, ime.
posted by freezer cake at 1:17 PM on February 17, 2015

I scrolled all the way down to say that I hated transitions, too. They will transition on an overcast day (too dark) but not in a car (too bright) and I really prefer wrap/full coverage sunglasses anyway, but most normal glasses are not cut like that. I usually go for contacts, but if it came down to it I would go for normal glasses + geezer glasses (sunglasses cut to fit over normal glasses)! Which is pretty bad, so just sayin'.

I don't have the extreme reaction to dust/eyelashes/etc. that other people are reporting with contacts. Eyelashes are definitely ow ow ow get it out, but no worse than without my contacts in. Dust is not a problem for me, and I'm around a lot of really nasty, gritty barn dust. Maybe I am really good at blinking? Anyway, I would definitely wear contacts while playing soccer and mountain biking. If things were going to be that much of a mudfest, I'd rather have contacts underneath non-prescription full face goggles.

If you can only wear glasses (depends on your prescription), then you'll want the sports prescription glasses for soccer and mountain biking, yes. Better for impacts (soccer ball to the face = glass shards = no fun) and better for staying on.

Contacts come in different versions depending on how often you replace them (you still have to take them out every day). Usually daily-weekly-monthly. Dailies cost more but are a million times more convenient unless you plan to put them in and take them out only for specific activities (sports), in which case lenses that are meant to be put in and taken out may be better (this would be a nuisance for sure, but might be worthwhile for certain things).

Advantages of contact lenses: Peripheral vision. I hate driving with glasses because I can't see cars coming up next to me as well. Since your distance vision is mostly OK to begin with, you might not have that problem as much. No smudges, no fingerprints. If you plan on using glasses most of the time, do yourself a favor and get a bottle of cleaner and a cleaning wipe for every place you might notice smudges: In front of your TV, at work, in the car. Otherwise you will try to clean your glasses with your sleeve and it won't work very well and you will be miserable.

Advantages of glasses: You can get more precise correction for cheaper. Things like a minor astigmatism that would be prohibitively expensive to correct with contacts are no problem to correct with glasses. More gentle on your eyes. Easier to take off and put on. Don't need special storage.
posted by anaelith at 5:20 AM on February 18, 2015

Professional soccer players who need glasses wear contacts on the field. I've never seen a soccer player wear sports goggles, personally. I also recall an interview with a national team player who mentioned getting contacts for vision. I'm sure someone has worn the goggles, but I can't recall ever seeing it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:45 AM on February 18, 2015

Again, great advice. I *do* get seasonal allergies, so I will have parts of the year where glasses are a must. I hadn't even considered that issue.

But it really sounds like I would prefer contacts most of the time, for the peripheral vision, the "what vision problems?" experience, the lack of fogging & dirty lens issues, and the ability to keep using cheapo sunglasses.

Thanks! Thanks!
posted by richyoung at 1:57 PM on February 18, 2015

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