Ask an Optometrist: Is it true that wearing reading glasses too soon is bad for my eyes?

“Hold off” is what we’re often told. But is that the latest thinking? An America’s Best optometrist weighs in.

Person reading in flight

If you’re in your 40s, you may have started holding menus at arm’s length and seeking brighter light to read by. Reading glasses can help, but some people put off wearing them because they’ve heard that readers could make their vision worse.

Optometrist Brian Kit, O.D., who sees patients at America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses stores in Los Angeles, says this common belief is actually a myth. We talked to him to get the straight talk on reading glasses.  

Why do we need reading glasses as we get older?

In our early 40s, many people start to need reading glasses because of presbyopia. “Presbyopia is a normal condition where the lens of the eye gets a little harder and less flexible as we age,” Dr. Kit explains.

The result is that our near vision gets a little blurrier over time until the changes level off sometime in our 60s.

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Why do people think wearing reading glasses will make vision worse?

Dr. Kit points to the progressive nature of presbyopia — and lack of understanding.

“As patients start to wear reading glasses for the first time and their vision up close gets worse, they might associate the vision changes with the glasses if they don’t fully understand the condition,” says Dr. Kit.

What that means is, whether you pick up a pair of reading glasses or choose to try and wait it out, “your vision will continue to get worse every few years.”

Is there anything people can do to slow the progression once they start to notice signs?

“This is a common question from patients, but unfortunately there’s nothing you can do to slow it down,” says Dr. Kit. “The lens of the eye is going to get less flexible at its own pace.”

When is the best time to start wearing reading glasses?

When the struggle to see well becomes more than a minor annoyance. For most people, early 40s is the best time to start considering reading glasses, but it depends on your lifestyle.

For people who do a lot of near activities like reading or knitting, it’s best to start early to prevent headaches and eye fatigue. “If you don’t do many close activities, you could hold off for a little bit,” he says.

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Can putting off wearing reading glasses hurt your eyes?

Not wearing reading glasses won’t cause long-term eye damage, but it can cause eye fatigue and headaches and affect how you feel throughout the day.

What if I already wear glasses for distance?

Someone who is nearsighted might be able to read fine if they take off their glasses. “There’s no need to consider bifocals or multifocals until that becomes inconvenient for you.”

Need help making up your mind? Read “How to Decide if Your Next Eyeglasses Should Be Multifocal” here.   

What about contact lens wearers?

“Most contact lens wearers with nearsightedness will experience presbyopia the same way a person with no prior vision problems would — and they can consider using reading glasses when symptoms show up,” he says.

The good news if you like contact lenses is that you have more options. “Instead of reading glasses,” he notes, “you can try multifocal contact lenses or monovision, where one lens corrects near vision, the other distance.”

Learn more about your contact lens options by checking out “Wearing Contact Lenses and Reading Glasses? You Have Better Options” here.

Should people with no prior vision problems see an eye doctor when they start to have presbyopia symptoms?

That’s a smart idea. “Grabbing a pair of over-the-counter readers is convenient, but there are other diseases that can cause blurry vision, so to be on the safe side, I advise going to the optometrist,” Dr. Kit says.

Your eye doctor will be able to tell you the exact power of readers you need and screen you for other vision and eye health issues.

Are over-the-counter readers okay, or should I consider prescription readers?

If you need readers only occasionally or tend to misplace or lose your glasses, over-the-counter readers make sense. But if you do a lot of close work, work on computers all day or get a lot of headaches, you might want to consider higher quality prescription readers.

“They will be more accurate and fit better and can account for differences in each eye,” Dr. Kit explains.

What should I tell my optometrist when I’m looking for readers?

Let your optometrist know what work and hobbies you do and at what distance you need to see so they can get accurate numbers. For instance, if you want to see your computer screen better, you’ll want a different diopter, which is the optical power of lenses, than you would for reading a book.

If someone with no previous vision complaints now needs readers, how often should they get an eye exam?

Assuming their medical and ocular history is healthy, Dr. Kit recommends they get an eye exam every year.

Are there any other reasons someone might need reading glasses?

“People think reading glasses are about age, but the younger population can also benefit,” he says.

Here’s why: When you’re younger, the lens of the eye is more flexible and the muscles around it are working extra hard. When you wear reading glasses, it can relieve some of the stress and prevent those muscles from getting fatigued.

“Kids who are on computers more with online work or young adults with heavy computer use — anybody can benefit from reading glasses.”