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SEE CLEAR: Reading glasses: Over the counter or prescription?

Can you still see up close? Some people don’t wear glasses when they are young but once they reach a certain age, usually by mid 40s, reading up close becomes more difficult. Some of these people will reach for a pair of inexpensive, over the counter reading glasses. These glasses work for some people in some instances but not all. How do over the counter readers compare to reading glasses in your actual prescription?

Over the counter readers are mass produced with a handful of generic powers, usually from about +1.00 to +4.00. If a person already wears glasses for the distance and is now having trouble seeing up close, these likely won’t work at all. For people with little or no prescription in the distance, generic readers may work for shorter periods or in a pinch. Much the same as a plain magnifying lens, they magnify the viewing area, and since bigger objects are easier to see, they help a lot of people to see small print. However, bigger isn’t always better. Clarity plays a large role in our vision and comfort as well.

There are several advantages to having a pair of reading glasses made in your specific prescription. Often, people will have different prescriptions in each eye and/or the prescription will have an astigmatism component. Simply put, astigmatism means that there are two prescriptions in that one lens. Unlike over the counter readers, a pair of reading glasses made just for the wearer can be different in each eye and will also correct the astigmatism. This will allow you to get exactly what you need and it is exactly what the optometrist prescribed. When it comes to vision, there is something to be said about the details.

A pair of glasses made just for you will have your unique measurements. At the time of ordering glasses, a licensed optician or optometrist will perform accurate measurements for each eye with appropriate tools and make necessary calculations for your glasses. This is really important because generic, over the counter readers use generic measurements and assume everyone is symmetrical and the same. Let me assure you, few of us are.

In the likely event that your measurements are not like everybody else, generic readers will cause you to look through the wrong part of the lens. Picture a pair of binoculars. They need to be lined up in front of your pupil for you to see clearly. If one or both eyes are not lined up properly, you could experience blurry vision, a pulling sensation, eyestrain, dryness or headaches.

Prescription reading glasses are often enhanced with treatments like non-glare, and blue light protection. These features will offer more comfort for longer periods of time while doing near tasks.

Besides single vision reading glasses, there are speciality lenses available, such as the Digitime lens. These lenses are very clear for reading but also enable the wearer to use them for an additional task such as being able to look at the end of the bed and see the TV or to use a computer. The uses and customization options available are endless. Digitime lenses are a very sophisticated version of prescription reading glasses, allowing you to do a wider range of near and intermediate tasks, with one pair of glasses.

Prescription reading glasses also open up more frame choices and are likely to be more comfortable and made from more durable materials and parts. Your licensed optician will help you choose an appropriate pair and adjust them to fit you. Again, comfort is important.

If you have private insurance that covers eyewear, reading glasses made in your prescription are a billable expense. Also, prescription eyewear is HST exempt and are categorized as a medical expense by CRA. If you are trying to stay within a certain budget, inform your optician who may be able to offer some lower cost options.

In a nutshell, if you are fortunate enough to have a prescription that allows you to get by with over the counter readers, go ahead! Keep a couple of pairs stashed in the house. If you like to be comfortable and you want to enjoy reading or doing close up work, consider getting a good pair of reading glasses in your exact prescription. When it comes to vision, it’s all in the details.

Tanya MacPhee is a licensed optician and contact lens fitter at Mermaid Vision in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

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