Help me understand reading glasses
December 21, 2019 8:48 AM   Subscribe

It has become harder for me to read my iPhone, iPad, and printed books requiring me to hold them closer to my face, especially late at night. I wear glasses for distance. It seems like I need reading glasses, but I tried on a bunch of various strengths (+1, +3, etc) at a pharmacy and they all made my vision worse. Does going to the eye Dr for a prescription get me a different type of lens than what the pharmacy has? (I have increased text size on iPhone and iPad already.)
posted by ridogi to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This started happening to me last year. Turned out not to be age-related longsightedness but the surprise onset of astigmatism, twenty years after I started wearing glasses for distance. So in my case, definitely something I needed to see an optician for.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:02 AM on December 21, 2019

What happens to some people as they age is that it gets more difficult to focus on things that are close to you. What the normal type of reading glasses (with positive correction numbers) do is make it easier to focus on things that are closer. That makes distance vision worse. The higher the + number on the reading glasses, the stronger the correction.

Usually, reading glasses will help if you can read things that are farther away, but you can't focus on them when they get closer. Since you are having the opposite problem, regular drug store reading glasses are unlikely to be helpful.

I agree that a visit to the eye doctor is the right thing to do.
posted by cruelfood at 9:12 AM on December 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Have you tried a magnifying glass? I should note that I'm far sighted and 40+ so have a different problem with my close vision but for some things I just need some magnification. I also have an astigmatism like the reader above so although I don't have much correction in one eye I still can't see out of it and need glasses.
Try an optometrist or other local equivalent for an eye exam and see if they can fix it. I never could use those cheapo readers.
posted by fiercekitten at 9:14 AM on December 21, 2019

I wear glasses for distance.

You should be having regular checkups with the same optometrist or ophthalmologist who prescribed your distance lenses. Bring up this issue at your next appointment.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:20 AM on December 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Have you tried reading with no glasses at all? That's what works for me. I've always worn glasses for distance vision and now that my eyes are aging it's harder to adjust my focus to read up close while wearing my glasses, but I can see just fine up close without them, just as I've always been able to do. If you have bad astigmatism, your experience will probably be different. (And pharmacy reading glasses won't correct for astigmatism.)
posted by Redstart at 10:03 AM on December 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is why they make bifocals.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:25 AM on December 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Have you been checked for cataracts?
posted by jointhedance at 11:13 AM on December 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Near-sighted? You need a negative prescription for reading glasses. The lens sticker will say, -1.5 or -3.0. I've never seen these for sale on a typical revolving rack in a US drug store. Once you get a prescription, order then online.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:15 AM on December 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Advice above is good. Seeing your Eye Doc is an excellent idea for regular exams (because besides checking your eyes for glasses-needs, they also check your eyes for disease like glaucoma and macular degenration). Sometimes they can suggest useful things like "Get Some Eye Vitamins" (as my Eye Doc did recently) to help prevent having macular whatsis later on. It might be just aging, but it could also be early signs of a problem.

For me? It was bifocals, which I really like and find super-useful in my everyday.
posted by which_chick at 12:43 PM on December 21, 2019

When you read at night and need to hold the material closer, are you wearing your glasses or not?

What happens as you age is that your ability to focus your eyes at different distances is reduced, then completely eliminated. You used to have adjustable focus lenses in your eyes; now you have fixed focus lenses.

Naturally, different people's point of fixed focus will be in different places. Some are a few inches away, some a foot or two, some at infinity (long distance; this is considered "normal" vision) and some even beyond infinity ("far sighted").

Usually your glasses are designed compensate for that natural variation in focal distance in order to give you focus at a long distance ("infinity"). From that starting point young people (up through their 40s or early 50s, typically) can reduce focus from that distance point in as close as needed.

So through your 40s & 50s, most people find they first can't bring focus as close as a few inches away, then no closer than a foot away, then no closer than two feet, then no closer than three feet, etc. Finally you can focus at one point (long distance) ONLY and as you bring the thing closer, it becomes gradually more blurry.

Optometrists will say "your arms get too short" as people compensate by holding reading material further & further away, and then suddenly their arms aren't quite long enough to do that any more. That is when people make an appointment to see their eye doctor.

(This is all assuming you have your properly calibrated glasses on, which as I explained above, are calibrated for seeing things at a long distance.)

So two things could be going on with you:

#1. You're wearing glasses when reading, this exact process is happening with you, things are getting blurry close up but if you hold an iPad close enough the letters become bigger which (for now) more than overcomes the blurriness.

#2. You're NOT wearing glasses when reading, you're quite near-sighted, and so you just hold your reading material pretty close when reading and that puts it in focus. However, now for whatever reason your vision is getting somewhat worse--either more near-sighted or astigmatism or both--and so you have to hold the material closer to reach your focal point and see the close things sharply in focus.

Either way, a visit to the optometrist will indeed help. Explain the problems you are having and they can help you find solutions, whether a different strength of glasses especially for reading, perhaps a different one for computer use, and yet a different one for distant use; or a bifocal or similar so one pair of glasses can do distant/medium/close. Or BOTH of those solutions, which is what I do.

Also, if you are near sighted, that is why the "reading glasses" at the store don't help at all.

Reading glasses are designed for people who can focus at a distance ("infinity") but can't move the focus closer in to see things at close range. So they bring the focal point closer in to you.

If you're near-sighted, your natural focal point is ALREADY close in! It might be two feet, one foot, 6 inches, 3 inches, whatever. (Mine is about 6 inches.) If your natural focal point is 9 inches away and you put on "reading" glasses that move the focal point to 3 inches away, that doesn't help--it makes things worse!


#1. You could try putting reading glasses at the drug store on OVER your regular glasses. See if you can find a pair that works that way. (You won't want to use that as a practical solution, I'm sure, but it will help you understand what is going on and see how much correction you would like compared with your normal distance glasses, in order to read, use a computer or whatever.)

#2. What near-sighted people (like you) need is NOT the reading glasses at the store, but rather a pair of glasses similar to their regular prescription, but with a slightly weaker lens. Your normal glasses take your eyes' focal point from (say) 6 inches to 200 feet. You need a weaker prescription that can take your focal point from 6 inches to maybe 18 inches.

Your optometrist can help you figure out what that prescription is. Then you put that reading distance prescription either into a separate pair of reading glasses and/or into some kind of bifocal or progressive lenses.

My own pro tip is ordering glasses, especially special use pairs like reading and computer glasses, from an online optician like Zenni Optical. Optometrists are great as far as being the expert resource, but each pair of glasses tends to be in the $200-$400 range at best.

At Zenni, I get a reading strength, a computer strength, and a distance-only strength, each for about $20. Then I also get a pair of graduated lenses (which do near, medium, and far) for about $150-$200. So for less than the price of one pair at the optometrist I have ALL the pairs I need. I use them all (as well as no glasses at all) in various circumstances.

At Zenni they have instructions for ordering reading-strength glasses based on your doctor's prescription from your eye exam.
posted by flug at 12:50 PM on December 21, 2019 [7 favorites]

It is impossible to diagnose your eyes over the internet--as you have seen from the responses, there are a bunch of things that can be happening. If cost is not an issue, go to an eye doctor. If it is, go to an optician. In any event, go to someone and you will probably get things straightened out quickly. As one with aging eyes, I sympathize.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 12:56 PM on December 21, 2019

And sorry for harping on about this but losing the ability to focus your eyes, so that they simply become fixed-focus, is a normal part of aging and something that happens to every human, gradually, generally some time between the ages of say 40 and 55 or maybe 65.

So it should be part of the "human instruction manual" that every person knows all about and knows how to handle, but somehow no one bothered to print that chapter out.

Here are a few online sites that explain it:

* Presbyopia - All About Vision

* Presbyopia - Mayo Clinic

Additionally, people who have never needed to wear corrective lenses and consider their vision "perfect" just assume that is going to last forever, don't want to get glasses, and so go about the last half of their lives in a state of half blindness because they don't want to (or don't know how to) effectively deal with the problem and don't want to admit that they need glasses.

Or they don't want to start wearing glasses just because they don't like them, aren't used to carrying them, or whatever.

Here is your clue-in: If you can't see anything closer than 5 feet away with perfect clarity then you are indeed half blind. And the "half" that you are blind is the most important half, because humans live most of their lives with the things that are within arms reach.

So if you find you can't see things within arms reach (to read, to sew, to view computer, phone, or tablet screens, to cook, to paint, read the TV remote, etc etc etc) with perfect clarity then you NEED visual correction just as badly as a 3rd grader who can't read the whiteboard at the front of the classroom or see the teacher clearly.

That 3rd grader NEEDS glasses; so do you at 55 if you can't see to thread a needle or read your TV remote.

Also, in 99% of cases, the issue is completely, 100% correctable with simple lenses/glasses. As long as they are made to the correct prescription. And good quality so that you can actually see through them.

And the cheap $5 "reading" glasses at the drugstore are a cheap stopgap solution that will give you a sense if that solution will help, but they are cheap as $#$ and will NOT give you good clear vision. They are made with about the equivalent quality as looking at everything through an old wavy-glass patent medicine bottle.

And on top of that they will get smudged and scratched and bent and all that, and you'll still be using the same pair 8 years later even though they never worked properly and now are work 3000% worse, but you don't realize better is available.

In short, if you're 45 or above and you can't see close things (say, 1 foot away) with PERFECT clarity then all you need is a $20 pair of glasses from Zenni (or a similar optician, NOT the corner drug store) with the correct prescription (which you will probably need to visit an eye doctor to get measured, though you may need a bit of experimentation beyond that to really hone it in) and you will be able to see and do close-up work with perfect clarity.

Also--and this is even more life changing--even if your distance vision is perfect you can still get progressive lenses so that you can see distance, medium, AND close-up things with decent clarity without having to change-change-change to 4 different pair of glasses all day long.

People who have worn glasses life-long almost always do this, but people who have always had "perfect" vision often just never think of it.

Progressive lenses are life-changing, if they will work for you (and they will for probably 90%+ of people.)

If you're above 45 and can't so those close things with perfect clarity any more, I strongly suggest doing this. It is life changing.


P.S. This is the time of life when I suddenly discovered the advantage of being very near-sighted. Now I just take my glasses off to read anything or see the smallest details on the tiniest form of printing or any small household object, like thread and needle.

My similar-age friends can't see that stuff even with their best glasses, because the focal point is say 18 inches away and that just puts small, detailed things too distant to see or read clearly.

It's my old-age superpower--micro-vision.

(However if you happen to not be blessed with that particular superpower, that is where things like good-quality magnifying glasses come in. That's how you bridge the gap between your nearest/strongest reading glasses and thing things that need to be 6 inches or 2 inches away to see clearly, but your eyes just don't do that any more even with reading glasses.

You put on your reading glasses and then in addition bust out the magnifying glass.)

posted by flug at 1:14 PM on December 21, 2019 [9 favorites]

If you're going the magnifying glass route, I'd suggest looking up 'fresnel lens magnifier' on Amazon or eBay. About the half the thickness of a credit card, and they come in credit card sizes and up. They're a little bendy so they'll survive pocket or wallet living. Can be super cheap, too.
posted by porpoise at 5:50 PM on December 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’m short sighted - I wear glasses to see things far away. The past few years I’ve had difficulty seeing things close up clearly and more and more frequently ended up taking my glasses off to comfortably read newspapers, some books, etc. This sounds like your experience?

For a few years, at my annual eye test, my optician would say I could try progressive/varifocal lenses whenever I was ready.

A couple of weeks ago I decided enough was enough and got new progressive lenses. Took a little while to get used to - I have to turn my head more to get some things in focus - but I haven’t had to take my glasses off to read things once. I had previously made the text on my phone and Apple Watch bigger so I could read them; I’ve put it back to small now.
posted by fabius at 3:42 AM on December 22, 2019

Coming back to say, I am nearsighted and I can read (phone, book, menu) just fine by taking off my glasses. I do have "computer" glasses for the type of distance, 18" or so, for work and for watching movies on the seatback in an airplane. My eyes have slightly different prescriptions but when I did finally find a place selling negative lenses that I was able to try on, having the same strength for both eyes wasn't an issue and an optometrist later confirmed it.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:59 AM on December 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm near sighted, and my night vision has suddenly started deteriorating as well. In my case, it's an astigmatism that has formed as I've gotten older. Regardless of where you get glasses, please get a comprehensive eye exam, as this can also be caused by retinal issues that merit monitoring.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:26 AM on December 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

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