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It can happen to anyone; even to those who have never experienced vision problems. Near vision begins to blur, and that ebook, menu, or cell phone needs to be held at arm's length in order to focus on it clearly. It's called presbyopia and comes with aging. Our eyes get less flexible and less capable of focusing up close.
The good news is presbyopia can be treated easily with progressive lenses. Also referred to as "no-line" bifocals, progressive lenses pack a vision-correcting punch, taking care of near vision, far vision and everything in between.
We talked with an expert, Lesley Walls, O.D., M.D., to get a clearer view of progressive lenses.
Q. Progressives versus bifocals – what's the difference?
A. With progressives you get smooth, continuous vision at near, middle, and distant focal ranges, with no lines or unsettling image jumps. Bifocals, on the other hand, correct near and distant vision only. There's a visible line between the two fields of vision. That's what creates an often-annoying image jump when you go from one distance to another.
Q. Do people get better vision with progressive lenses?
A. Not necessarily better, but more natural, for sure. Transitions from one distance to another will be uninterrupted, and you'll see clearly across all visual areas. When you're driving, for example, you'll be able to read a map, the mileage on your dashboard, or the signs on the highway – all in one smooth sequence.
Q. Are progressives hard to get used to?
A. They can be – to varying degrees for different people. When you first wear them, you may experience a short period of distortion or wobbliness in your vision until you get used to them. For some people, it only takes a few minutes, others, a few days. There are some where it can take a couple weeks, too.
Q. What are the different types of progressives?
A. Some have wider or narrower fields of vision. If you do a lot of work at close range, such as bookkeeping, needlework or reading, your near field of vision may be wider to meet those needs. If you work at a computer, on the other hand, the mid-range “corridor” that is characteristic of progressives may be larger. Your eye doctor will help you find the right kind for your lifestyle and habits.
Q. Are progressive lenses expensive?
A. They tend to be more expensive than other multifocal lenses, but most people who wear them say the natural and clear field of vision is worth the extra cost.
Q. Do I need a special frame style with progressive lenses?
A. Lens designs today are more compact, so you can choose small, stylish frame designs.
Q. Are there alternatives to wearing progressive lenses?
A. Besides progressives and bifocals, there are also trifocal lenses or bifocal contacts. Like progressives, trifocals offer three fields of vision, but have two visible segment lines that mean a double image jump. New designs in bifocal contact lenses are also an alternative. Another option is monovision in which one eye is corrected with a contact lens for distance vision and the other eye with a contact for near vision.
If you have difficulty focusing on close objects, ask your eye doctor if progressive lenses are right for you.