Monovision vs. Multifocal Contact Lenses: What’s the Difference, and Which One Is Right for You?

When you’re dealing with presbyopia, these two contact lens options are bound to come up. Here’s help understanding exactly what each type can (and can’t) do for you.

Closeup of a finger holding a contact lens

There’s no sugarcoating this fact of aging: The older you get, the more complicated your vision needs will become.

This is especially true of those who are nearsighted entering their 40s. Chances are you’ve been seeing clearly for decades — happily loving your glasses and/or contact lenses.

All’s great!

And then presbyopia strikes.

Presbyopia is the age-related blurring of your close-up vision that happens when your eyes start gradually losing flexibility. It’s a completely normal part of aging, but when it occurs, you’ll need help seeing both near and far.

While it’s comforting to know that this vision change will affect everyone eventually, it’s still frustrating to be in the position of weighing the pros and cons of over-the-counter readers and progressive lenses.

It’s right around this time that people with contact lenses often jump to the conclusion that their contact-wearing days are over. In fact, however, there are two good options for people with contact lenses who need help seeing near and far: monovision and multifocal lenses.

We sat down with David Teed, O.D., an optometrist with Texas Vision Associates, associated with America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Prosper, Texas, to learn more about how each of these contact lenses works.

“I like to preface the discussion of multifocal or monovision contacts with the idea that there is no perfect solution. There’s going to be a compromise at some level,” says Dr. Teed. “I like to say that I’m going to get them very clear, useful vision about 85% of the time.”

Did you know that contact lens prescriptions need to be renewed every year? Find an exam time that fits your schedule.

The Pros and Cons of Monovision Lenses

With monovision contact lenses, one contact corrects for distance while the other corrects for close vision. It may sound strange, but this method has been used successfully for decades.

“Your brain gets used to the difference and adjusts,” Dr. Teed says.

Pros: Monovision lenses generally give wearers very clear vision for up-close tasks and faraway distances.

Cons: The clarity of objects in the midrange — such as your computer screen or speedometer — may decline.

You might also see some glare at night around headlights and streetlights.

Best for: Dr. Teed recommends monovision contact lenses for people who have a greater need to see clearly at a distance, such as truck drivers or teachers.

He adds that patients who are in the early stages of presbyopia tend to do better with monovision lenses than older adults do.

“Monovision lenses are pretty customizable,” Dr. Teed says. For example, if you like the results of monovision for driving but still need help for computer work, you can add a pair of glasses that rebalances both eyes for midrange vision tasks.

Tip: Expect an adjustment period where you might see some shadowing around things. Some people make the adjustment right away, but he tells patients to allow anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to get used to them.

Pros and Cons of Multifocal Lenses

Multifocal contact lenses combine near and far vision correction into both lenses.

Pros: You don’t have to adjust your head position to read or see clearly. Multifocals do all the work. In that way, they’re similar to progressive lenses in eyeglasses.

Here’s how they work:

  • The center of the multifocal lens is designed for reading.
  • The outer ring is optimized for distance.
  • When you look at something close, your pupils constrict and use the center of the lens.
  • The pupils widen when you look far away and use the outer ring.

Cons: Your distance vision may be a little blurry because you will get some interference from the reading portion of the lens.

You also may still find yourself reaching for reading glasses when looking at very fine print or when you’re in low-light situations.

Dr. Teed says that multifocal contacts may not be suitable for those with severe dry eye, cataracts, or astigmatism.

Best for: Dr. Teed recommends multifocal contacts for patients who do a lot of computer work.

Tip: Multifocal lenses are more expensive than monovision lenses.

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Getting It Right

Your optometrist will work with you to tailor your contacts to fit your daily routine. During your contact lens exam, [link to article on this topic] be sure you tell your eye doctor about your vision expectations and your lifestyle. This conversation will greatly inform their contact lens recommendations.

Whichever type you choose, commit to trying them for several days — not just several hours.

“You’ve got to take them home and see how you feel when driving and working on your computer. Can you see your children misbehaving across the room?” Dr. Teed says.

After a week, let your optometrist know how you’re getting along. They can make adjustments, if necessary.

They may even suggest something called modified monovision: a regular contact in one eye and a bifocal one in the other eye. Or sometimes a different brand will make all the difference.

“No two patients are the same,” Dr. Teed says. “It’s very much like trying on shoes. I put on a size 10 in one brand and I hate it; I put on a 10 in another brand and it’s fantastic.”