Can I order reading glasses online without an eye exam?
December 28, 2015 7:01 PM   Subscribe

I have hit the point where I need reading glasses. I have one pair I like a lot. I want to buy a bunch more similar pairs from Zenni and I'm not totally sure how to make sense of conflicting information. Could you give me advice?

First off: I have insurance so if the answer is "Go to an eye doctor" I can do that but if it's a thing I can skip I would not mind skipping it. I went last year and what he said was "Your eyes are fine. You may need reading glasses soon. You can get them from the drug store if you do."

So: I can read books better lately with reading glasses. Hooray. Everything else looks fine. I have a few random pairs of glasses in my house from various things. The ones that I can see most clearly through (they look like these) say "Bausch & Lomb 4 1/2 - 5 3/4" on the inside. In my dream world I'd just get ten pairs of these but they're old and "vintage" and so that is out.

BUT, when I take those online "What strength reading glasses do you need?" tests, I test consistently at about 2.0 which makes a bit more sense to me since I just started needing reading glasses. The glasses I love are also possibly 40+ years old. So, my set of questions...

Did glasses strength change? Is there some normal way to make sense of the difference between the real-world glasses I have (4 1/2?) and the tests (2.0, printed out and online) that seem to say something different? Does it matter that much? Should I just go to the drugstore and try a bunch of pairs on before I order from Zenni? Reading about this online is not super helpful, could use advice from the bespectacled. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn to Shopping (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My eye doctor told me to just go into a drugstore with a reading glasses display and try a bunch on to see which felt right. They're inexpensive enough that if you screw it up a bit and need to go back for a slightly stronger pair, it's not a huge ordeal.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:08 PM on December 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'd go to the drugstore and find the ones that are most comfortable for you and order a zillion pairs from Zenni. Age-related degeneration is just a thing that happens. It's not something that needs a diagnosis from a doctor.
posted by quince at 7:10 PM on December 28, 2015

My guess is that the numbers printed on the inside of your B&L glasses are measurements for the frame, and have nothing at all to do with the power of the lenses. It is not uncommon for the width & length measurements to be printed on the earpiece; on my frames it's in mm, but the numbers you give are consistent with typical measurements in inches.
posted by Westringia F. at 7:11 PM on December 28, 2015 [10 favorites]

Yeah, go to the drugstore and try a bunch on. You probably need 2.0. I wear reading glasses and buy most of them at Whole Foods and order the rest online.

Your glasses strength will change again in the next years (mine won't because I had a cataract operation and have artificial lenses), so don't buy a whole boatload unless you routinely lose or break them. Reading glasses tend not to be as sturdy as prescription ones, but they are cheap enough that it's not a big deal. I like ICU but there are a bunch of them out there.
posted by Peach at 7:13 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're really so loathe to get an eye exam done, then I would say your idea of using the prescription from a drug store pair as reference to order online is probably your best bet - but to be on the safe side, make sure Zenni has a good return policy, or at least that their prices are low enough that you're okay with swallowing the cost if you end up with a pair of glasses that aren't working for you.

When you go to order glasses from Zenni, they will likely ask you for your PD, or pupillary distance - they may have an online tool to measure it yourself, but if not, you can likely call your eye doctor and ask for the information.
posted by Jynnan Tonnyx at 7:13 PM on December 28, 2015

And yes, as Westringia F suggested, I can almost guarantee that the numbers on the frames you have refer to the size of the frame rather than anything to do with the lenses. But I've always used those measurements to give me at least a ballpark idea of what frames will fit my head when ordering online, so they have their uses.
posted by Jynnan Tonnyx at 7:16 PM on December 28, 2015

Those numbers on the B&L frames are the frame size, not the lens strength. It means the frames are 4 1/2 inches wide with 5 3/4 inch temples.

As you said, go to the drug store and try on various glasses and to find what diopter strength you need, then order glasses with that diopter number in the frame of your choice.
posted by JackFlash at 7:17 PM on December 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

I used to buy reading glasses but now I have bifocals. If you only need reading glasses go to the Dollar Store. The ones where everything is a dollar (like Dollar General)! That's going to be cheaper than Zenni or any drugstore (or even WalMart). Yes, most of the dollar ones don't have nice hinges but they still work!
posted by gilast at 7:34 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a prescription for reading glasses. I have one nice pair and a dozen or so cheap ones from the drug store.
2.0x sounds about right, but I bet you can go lower and still get the benefit. My prescription is for 1.5x, and that seems plenty to me. I would suggest trying on a couple different strengths and go with the lowest value that works for you.
posted by monospace at 7:58 PM on December 28, 2015

I would suggest trying on a couple different strengths and go with the lowest value that works for you.

Thanks. Is there a benefit to going with a lower value?

I got a gift certificate to Zenni so while I am also stoked to go buy a zillion pairs at the drug store, I was also looking for "what to tell the website" tips which you guys helped a lot with. It didn't occur to me that the measurements on my old glasses were sizes (and in inches!) but that was the missing piece. I ordered a few cheapo pairs of readers from Zenni and will poke around the drug store for more at a later time. Thanks so much for the useful advice!
posted by jessamyn at 8:16 PM on December 28, 2015

Is there a benefit to going with a lower value?

Reading glasses should make it comfortable to read, nothing more. Save those 8x magnifications for when you're doing microsurgery.
posted by monospace at 8:41 PM on December 28, 2015

Thanks. Is there a benefit to going with a lower value?

You want to choose a diopter that is correct for your normal reading distance, usually 13 to 14 inches. You should choose the reading glasses so that you can comfortably read at 14 inches, but it starts to get blurry as soon as you move farther than 14 inches. This is called the far point of vision. Your eye lens is most relaxed at the far point and contracts as you move closer. So by choosing the diopter right at the limit for 14 inches, you will be reading with a more relaxed lens.

If you go to a higher diopter, then you have to move the page closer to your eye, and the image will be larger. If you go to a lower diopter, then you have to move the page farther from your eye, and the image will be smaller.

So choose for comfort at 14 inches (or whatever your comfortable reading distance is) and you should find it harder to focus if you move the page slightly farther away.
posted by JackFlash at 9:05 PM on December 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Heh... welcome to getting old older.

At about the age of 38 or so, I found that it was getting difficult to read books (pre-computer...imagine that!)... Eye doctor said "getting older, reading glasses" and sold me something that was outrageously expensive... I wore them for 3 years or so, broke them, needed new ones...

Cheap guy that I am, I went to the drug store, tried on a bunch of $10 reading glasses, found a pair that worked and used that system for the next 15 years or so...

Things get more complicated as time goes on, distance vision starts to change, bi-focals, tri-focals, progressive lens.... arrrrrggg..

But, you're not there yet. Determine your reading distances, and it's probably different for books and for screens... measure the distance for each... take your tape measure to the drug store, along with a piece of printed material of average font size.. Get a pair of glasses for reading books, another for reading screens. If they are cheap enough, get a couple of pairs of each...

This system works until you can't read street signs, then you need an eye doctor to make you a pair for driving and distance activities.... Eventually, you'll consider bi-focals or progressive lens... and you'll do that for a while, then you'll go back to three pairs, one for the computer, one for books, one for driving....

It's a process...

But, for now, drug store glasses for reading and another for screens if you aren't having problems with distance (driving and such)...

And, with glasses, you now have a classic Librarian look. :)
posted by HuronBob at 9:06 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I find there’s a difference between the cheapest and nicer reading glasses, maybe it’s just me. The cheap ones work, but seem to cause more eye strain.
posted by bongo_x at 10:26 PM on December 28, 2015

Take some measurements before experimenting with drugstore glasses. Close your eyes, hold a book at a comfortable position, then measure the distance. Do the same with a laptop. They'll probably be different numbers. Try both distances when you're checking out drugstore glasses.

I find that +1.25 works for reading, and +0.75 is comfortable for laptops. Drugstores (or airport magazine shops) never stock a +0.75 correction, so I get them from Amazon. If you're finding that +2.00 works for reading, consider seeing if glasses with a +1.50 or +1.25 correction makes your screen time more comfortable.

If you're unlucky and your eyes age at different rates, you can make a pair of custom readers by buying two pairs of drugstore glasses and swapping the lenses on one side, though at that point a trip to the optometrist is overdue.
posted by dws at 10:52 PM on December 28, 2015

Nthing trying on many pairs at the drugstore until you find favorites. Once you have a good strength, I'd defintiely order a few from Zenni. Note that I said to order a few pairs.

True and slightly ridiculous: if you're anything like me, get several different pairs because after being alive __ many years, my muscle memory for finding my new glasses is as weak as a newborn foal's spindly legs.

In other words, "Where the fuck are my glasses?" will become your new and least-favorite time-waster. If you get a few different pairs you won't be double-whammied with "Jesus, when did I get so old?!" failing eyesight and memory less.
posted by sweetie_darling at 4:22 AM on December 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you get a too strong pair, you will eventually need them.
I buy 10 at a time at the 99 cent store. The cheap ones break often but--I've got 9 others!
Sometimes I use 1.00, other times as high as 3.50 depending on what's available at the moment (I have several in every room).
1.00s aren't usually strong enough to read with and I put on 2 pairs at once. They're OK to just be on the computer, though. With more light you can use weaker glasses.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:43 AM on December 29, 2015

Just wanted to mention that bifocal contact lenses are also a thing. They are amazingly effective for me -- I used to have 20 pairs of readers scattered around my house and now they are all gone. NB. I have also been very myopic my whole life, and love my super close up detailed vision unaided. Don't know if this is an option for far-sighted people.
posted by jfwlucy at 7:16 PM on December 29, 2015

I've been ordering reading glasses from I like the quality and am able to find wide glasses to fit my big head. They almost always have some promotion going on (currently 30% off ). They are better quality than the dollar store ones I had been getting.
posted by nightwood at 4:26 PM on February 7, 2016

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