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Should You Get Progressive Lenses?

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Wearing glasses isn’t a magical cure for vision problems. If you want to see clearly out of your frames, you’ll need to make sure they’re holding the right lenses. However, there are many different lens types to choose from, and not all lenses serve the same purpose. However, some lenses—such as progressive lenses—can serve multiple purposes at once.

What are progressive lenses, how do they work, and will they be right for you? Those are just a few of the questions we’ve set out to help you answer below. Read on, and find out everything you need to know about progressive lenses so that you can decide whether or not to use them.

Frames with progressive lenses resting on grey desktop

What Are Progressive Lenses?

Most lens types hold a single prescription. The prescription determines the focusing power of the lens, which your eye doctor will recommend based on the type and degree of your vision problems.

Some lenses are bifocals, which means they hold two prescriptions. In bifocals, the top half of the lens is shaped to help the wearer view faraway objects, and the bottom half is shaped to bring nearby objects into focus. Trifocal lenses also exist, in which the surface of the lens is divided into three parts (to help focus at near, middle, and faraway distances).

Bifocals and trifocals generally have subtle lines separating the areas with different prescriptions. However, progressive lenses contain a spectrum of prescriptions from top to bottom and use a gradient instead of breaking the surface into distinct sections. For this reason, progressive lenses are sometimes referred to as multifocal lenses. Using a gradient allows the wearer to focus effectively at a wide variety of distances by looking through different parts of the lens.

Diagram showing differences between various lens types

Are Progressive Lense Easy to Use?

Many people need some time to adjust to wearing progressive lenses. Most people aren’t used to focusing at different distances by merely moving their eyes—especially those who are newer to wearing glasses. If you are not yet used to wearing progressive lenses, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Vision that blurs when you look through the wrong part of your lens for the distance at which you are focusing
  • Challenges to depth perception when looking through the wrong part of the lens (which can make it seem like some objects are moving when you look at them)
  • Headaches caused by trying to focus at the wrong distance and straining your eye muscles
  • Nausea caused by changes to your depth perception
  • Loss of balance caused by changes to your depth perception

Most of these symptoms are mild and tend to die down after 1 or 2 weeks. However, some people simply find progressive lenses too complicated and difficult to use.

How to Adapt More Easily to Progressive Lenses

Here are a few strategies you can use to avoid difficulties when adapting to your progressive lenses:

  • Build up a tolerance to your new lenses slowly. Experiment with wearing them for only an hour or two the morning after you get them. The next morning, try wearing them for an hour or two longer and go at your own pace until you have adjusted comfortably.
  • You might be tempted to revert to your old pair of lenses if your new progressives are annoying you, but don’t give in to that temptation. Your eyes need time to adjust, and you’ll confuse your brain by moving back and forth between both sets. In the end, this will only make adapting to progressive lenses more difficult.
  • Ensure that your frames fit your face correctly. Glasses that slide around when you are moving your head will create additional challenges when trying to focus through a specific part of the lens.
  • Get used to pointing your nose in the direction you want to look. If you are accustomed to only moving your eyes, you will inadvertently change your focus whenever you look in a new direction.
  • When reading, look through the bottom of the lens, and move the paper or book instead of moving your eyes. Doing so will help the words stay in focus while you read.
  • Adjust your workstation so that your computer screen is slightly below eye level—otherwise, you may have to crane your neck to focus on the screen in front of you.

If these strategies do not work after a couple of weeks, it’s time to return to your eye doctor and have them review your prescription. If you are finding progressive lenses too challenging to use, they may recommend one of several alternatives.

Alternatives to Progressive Lenses

People who cannot (or do not wish to) wear progressive lenses may want to consider the following alternatives:

  • Multifocal contact lenses, which use the same principle as progressive lenses but go directly inside your eye instead of in your frames. These are an excellent choice for people with dynamic lifestyles, whose glasses may slide around on their face during activities.
  • Multiple pairs of glasses. Using different pairs of glasses to focus at different distances can help you avoid the challenges associated with progressive lenses. Of course, you’ll have to find an easy way to carry all those pairs around with you!
  • Corrective surgery. Laser eye surgery can help correct specific refractive errors but is not suitable for everyone. Your age, medical history, and other conditions will all determine your candidacy for these procedures. Talk to your doctor about whether or not laser eye surgery could be an option for you.

Progressive Lenses: Worth the Effort

Wearing progressive lenses may not seem easy at first, but with a little practice, they can be some of the most useful lenses you’ll ever own. To learn more about progressive lenses, contact your eye doctor today and schedule an appointment so that they can find out what prescription range you’ll need.

Written by Benjamin Teller

Dr. Teller earned his doctorate in optometry from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1996 and has been helping local residents see clearly ever since. After graduation, Dr. Teller completed an internship with the Hopewell Valley Eye Associates, as well as several externships with the National Naval Medical Center and Katzen Eye Group.

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