Wide Eyed

New Progressive Lenses Offer Better Vision Without Tell-Tale Lines

If you’re worried that wearing bifocal or trifocal glasses will give away your (middle) age, then consider trying progressive lenses—today’s progressive lenses are better than they used to be. But be sure to factor in time to adjust.

“The progressive lenses look like any other glasses,” says optometrist Alison Mercer of Tidewater Eye Centers, with offices in Chesapeake, Norfolk and Virginia Beach. “A lot of people like that. Progressive lenses don’t add that age element with the lines.”

If you tried progressive lenses before and they didn’t work out for you, consider giving them another chance and try the new high definition progressive lenses, Mercer advises. High definition progressive lenses offer the widest viewing area of any progressive, she says. They also offer larger intermediate ranges—good news for those who spend a lot of time working on computers, she says.

Besides the cosmetic advantage of an unlined lens, progressive lenses offer more vision options than bifocals or trifocals, says ophthalmologist Sam Garrett of Virginia Beach Eye Center. With bifocals, you’re looking out the top of the lens for distance vision and down the bottom for reading. Trifocals add a middle zone for intermediate vision.

As the name implies with progressive lenses, the changes are gradual, as opposed to delineated. If you’re looking out, you can see into the distance as well as at 10 feet, five feet, four feet, etc., Garrett says. As you look down to read or do another close-up activity, the power gets gradually stronger, he says. “They have every distance between you and infinity built in,” he says.

There are downsides. Those lines that clearly identity you as middle aged also make it easier to know where to look when wearing bifocals or trifocals. “The advantage of a lined bifocal or trifocal is, the lines tell you where to look,” Mercer says. “With a progressive lens, you have to find the spot on your own.”

That makes the adjustment harder.

“I remember when I first started wearing progressives, every other day I was over in the optical shop saying, ‘There’s something wrong with these glasses,’” Garrett says wryly. “The optician would pat me on the head and say ‘Dr. Garrett, it’s OK.’”

You’ll also have to adjust to blurred peripheral vision. Sometimes, you’ll need to turn your head to see clearly as opposed to just glancing out the corner of your eye and glasses, Garrett says. It does take some additional adapting.

Overall, 85 to 95 percent of people can wear progressive lenses, Mercer says. “Once you adapt, you don’t have to think about it at all,” she says.


But the new technology with a wider vision area gives less of that edge blur, Mercer notes.

That adaptation also is easier if you’re younger, Garrett and Mercer say. “If someone comes in at age 75 and wants to get progressive lenses, I tell them there’s about a 50 percent chance they’ll get used to it, switching from non-progressive lenses to progressives,” Garrett says.

To make that adjustment easier, you’ll need to wear your new progressive lenses most of the day. “If you go to progressives, you have to wear them to have any chance to get used to them,” Garrett says. “You can’t be somebody who wears them half the time. If you’re only going to wear them some of the time, I wouldn’t advise it.”

Finally, new progressive lenses also offer different options based on what kind of vision you need for your work, hobbies and life in general, Mercer says. “Share that information with the optician,” she advises.

Lenses can offer larger zones for the vision that you need the most. Whether you’re a target shooter, seamstress, computer jockey, musician or bookworm, there’s a progressive lens suited for you.

Contacts Are Different
For contacts wearers, multi-focal lenses offer some of the benefits of progressive eyeglasses. But there are key differences. In multi-focal contacts, there are rings of different vision power—think of a bullseye target, Mercer says. Usually, the center ring is near vision, followed by intermediate vision and then distance vision in the outer rings—although sometimes the configuration is different.

These lenses are harder to get used to, Garrett says.

“You’re getting all the visual information at once,” Mercer notes. “Your brain has to learn to disregard the parts that aren’t needed and concentrate on the part of vision that’s where you want to look.”

About 40 percent of people who try multi-focal contacts can successfully wear them, Garrett says. You can get these contacts on a trial basis to see if they’ll work for you.

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