As humans we can deny the aging process all we want, but inevitably the day will come when printed words on a page will seem to squirm before our eyes. Clarity only returns when we hold the print farther from our faces – striking the pose we recognize from watching older relatives. Then come the jokes: Is your arm long enough to read that?
OK I admit it! When I read small print up close, now it looks like a big blur. So why is this happening, and why in my 40s? The answer is so simple, it’s cool. Our eyes have natural crystalline lenses that are largely comprised of collagen. Tiny muscles inside the eye adjust the lens for focusing. When our eyes age so do our lenses, which causes them to thicken and become less flexible. All of this leads to lenses that no longer attain the proper shape to focus on near targets.
“In our early to mid-40s, many of us start to experience changes in our bodies related to the diminished elasticity of collagen, such as wrinkles on our skin or creaky knees,” says VM optometrist Christine Richter, OD. “In the eye, this loss of flexibility means very close things will look out of focus. Unfortunately, this process will continue progressing and the solution might be found in prescription glasses, contact lenses or even ‘cheaters,’ what people often call over-the-counter reading glasses.”
For many people, using cheaters, or drugstore reading glasses, is a pretty easy fix for this age-related vision problem. The key is finding the right level of magnification, or “diopter strength.” Typically off-the-shelf glasses start at diopter strength of 1.00 or 1.25, then increase by 0.25 increments up to 2.50 or 3.00.
When I went shopping for glasses, I tucked a piece of reading material in my purse for testing. Honestly, I was a little excited since I’d seen all the fun and colorful design options awaiting me at my neighborhood variety store. Pretty quickly I knew the diopter strength for me would be 1.50, which did narrow the options, but I could still choose from some crazy colors, patterns and frame shapes. Testing each pair is still a must, as there are variations in lens quality, even at the drugstore level.
According to Dr. Richter, you may do just fine with over-the-counter reading glasses if:
- Both eyes are well-matched in terms of correction needed
- You aren’t dealing with significant astigmatism, or blurred vision due to the irregular shape of your cornea or lens
- You are satisfied with the fit and style of the glasses
- You won’t mind removing your reading glasses for distance viewing
- The glasses don’t cause noticeable eyestrain, headaches or both
If in doubt about whether the vision changes you’re experiencing are part of the aging process, get yourself to an eye doctor. “It is important to remember that an eye exam assesses much more than just vision,” says Dr. Richter. “Older adults are at increased risk for eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.”
Dr. Richter recommends that it’s especially important for parents to confirm their children’s eyes are developing normally by having an exam, ideally before kindergarten. Children who do require vision correction should be re-examined every year to check for changes. Adults who are not at risk for inherited eye disease are generally OK to follow up every other year.
So far my off-the-shelf reading glasses are working out fine – I chose black frames with zebra-striped temples (the long pieces that sit on your ears). But if things get blurry again, I will go in for an eye exam. And I can’t wait to see all the style possibilities.