I am asked at least ten times a day about over the counter readers. Many of my patients present for an examination frustrated with their near vision as reading comfortably becomes more and more difficult. The transition is inevitable. Many people define their experience as a gradual need to hold reading material further and further out until their arms simply become too short!
The physiology of this phenomenon is actually not very well understood. There are many theories about the decrease in focusing ability, also known as accommodation, that accompanies the aging process. Most agree it is a combination of a weakening of a muscle inside of the eye called the ciliary body along with a change in the elasticity of the lens inside the eye. Regardless, the end result is an overwhelming desire to cheat!
Over the counter readers, commonly referred to as cheaters, actually work relatively well for some folks and can be a viable option in certain situations. Unfortunately, the reality for most is that it is a very inadequate solution for the long term. It is probably easiest for me to describe for whom it works best. The 40-something year old who has never had a need for distance correction and works for extended periods of time at near is the best candidate. However, that leaves out a lot of people, and the resolution of an over the counter reader still leaves a lot to be desired for even the best candidate.
Cheaters are generally poorly made. They are inexpensive for a reason. The frames don’t typically fit well, can’t be adjusted and break easily. The lenses are typically warped and prone to scratches and frequently don’t match the power as advertised. Our optical carries better quality readers in stock for those who are more discerning in quality. Something many people don’t realize is that there are so many options available in frames and lenses in a prescription that cheaters simply can’t provide. Lenses with anti-reflective coatings, scratch coatings, tints and filters along with frames that are made of materials that are adjustable and long lasting.
To this point we have addressed many reasons why cheaters aren’t typically the best option and we haven’t even got to the most important reason. Rarely do I encounter someone over the age of 40 who wouldn’t benefit from a specific prescription for their eyes. Even if you don’t feel like you need a prescription for your distance vision, it is likely your eyes are working all the time to compensate for what is likely a small prescription that is affecting your ability to see comfortably at both distance and near. Most individuals settling for cheaters would benefit from a single vision reader that matches your prescription along with the benefits that anti-reflective coatings can provide in prolonged viewing of computer screens and various lighting conditions.
The most common reason move from a cheater or prescription reader is that it simply becomes too frustrating to constantly take the readers off and put them back on. The best solution in this case is to move into a progressive add lens, commonly called a no-line bifocal. The obvious benefit in this situation is the prescription allows one to see all distances all the time without having to remove the glasses for distance viewing.
The bottom line is this, your prescription needs are like a fingerprint. No two prescriptions are the same and everyone has different visual needs and demands. The only way to know what is best for you is to have your eyes evaluated through a comprehensive eye examination.