Your Complete Guide to Reading Glasses

Your Complete Guide to Reading Glasses

Have you noticed that you’re struggling to read the instructions on packages? Are you squinting to read the text? Do restaurant menus appear a bit blurry? If you’re 40 years old or older, you’re likely experiencing presbyopia—the gradual loss of your eyes’ ability to focus on nearby objects. 

Presbyopia is a natural, often annoying part of aging that affects 128 million Americans. It usually becomes noticeable in your early to mid-40s and continues to worsen until around age 65. Thankfully, there’s an easy way to restore your ability to see up close: reading glasses. 
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll be answering all of your questions about reading glasses, from how they work to how to choose the best pair for your needs. 

The Basics
Navigating Prescription and Strength
Value and Price
Wearing Reading Glasses
Addressing Health Concerns
Selecting Your Style

Understanding the Basics

What are reading glasses?

Reading glasses are eyeglasses that improve your ability to read something up close, such as a book or a computer screen. Reading glasses are available over-the-counter or as a prescription, and can even come with blue light lenses for use when viewing digital screens.

Do I need reading glasses?

Reading glasses become a necessity for the vast majority of people as they age. The first, most obvious clue that you need reading glasses is having difficulty reading text and seeing objects that are close to your face. Some other common signs that you’re developing presbyopia include:

  • Holding reading materials at arm’s length to make letters clearer
  • Blurred vision at normal reading distance
  • Squinting when trying to read close-up text
  • Difficulty reading in low-light conditions
  • Eye strain or headaches after reading or doing close-up work

signs you need reading glasses infographic by gunnar


Can you have 20/20 vision and still need reading glasses?

Many people think that if they have 20/20 vision, that means they don’t need reading glasses. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. “20/20” is a term that refers to how well you can see at a distance. A person can see perfectly at a distance, but still experience presbyopia due to aging, making it difficult to read and see things that are close up. Consequently, a person can certainly have 20/20 vision and still need reading glasses.

How do reading glasses work?

Reading glasses magnify the information coming into your eyes. This enlarges whatever is in your viewing field, taking the strain off of your eyes. They’re designed to be worn only when you need to read or see something up close. Reading glasses can be used for either short periods of time, such as quickly looking something up on your phone, or for longer periods of time, such as when sewing or doing work on your computer.

when to use reading glasses


If you’re experiencing presbyopia, it’s a good idea to keep a pair of reading glasses with you at all times just in case you need to see something up close.

Navigating Prescription and Strength

How do I know what strength reading glasses to get?

Non-prescription reading glasses (aka over-the-counter glasses) will be labeled with a number, typically ranging from +1.00 to +3.00. These numbers (called diopters) refer to the magnification level the lenses provide. Stronger glasses are available, but they require a prescription from an eye doctor.

reading glasses strength explained


For computer work, most people find that low-power reading glasses (+1.25 to +1.5), are sufficient. For reading text that is closer, stronger glasses might be required (+2.0 to +2.5). As you age, the strength you need will likely increase.

What is the best magnification for reading glasses?

There is no “best” magnification for reading glasses—only the magnification that is right for your unique needs. The most surefire way to ensure you choose the correct strength is to visit an eye doctor who can test your vision and tell you the exact strength you’ll need. 

Alternatively, you can visit a retail store and try on glasses with different strengths. Once you know your strength, you can then buy reading glasses online, which opens the door to a wider selection.

To learn more about choosing the correct strength reading glasses for your needs, click here.

Can you use reading glasses instead of prescription glasses?

To answer this question, it’s important to understand the difference between non-prescription reading glasses and prescription reading glasses. Non-prescription reading glasses can be purchased at various retail stores or online and have the same prescription in both lenses,  It is important to note that most people do not have the same exact prescription in both eyes, so if you are symptomatic with over the counter glasses, your best bet is to get an eye exam. 

Prescription reading glasses, on the other hand, can be customized to fit the exact prescription of your eyes, even if one eye is stronger than the other. They can also correct issues like astigmatism and are available in bifocal options for people who need both near and far vision assistance. 

As such, non-prescription reading glasses are not a substitute for prescription glasses. Many people, however, opt to have a couple of different pairs of reading glasses for different needs. For example, a pair of blue light reading glasses for doing computer work and a pair of prescription reading glasses for other non-digital tasks.  

Can you wear reading glasses with contacts?

Because distance vision and close-up vision are two different things, it’s common for older adults to wear both contacts and reading glasses (as needed). The contacts correct their distance vision while the reading glasses allow them to see things up close. Contacts and reading glasses can be worn at the same time with no negative effects. 

Considering Value and Price

Are cheap reading glasses bad for your eyes?

As with any product, the price of reading glasses depends on their quality and the features they include. A pair of non-prescription reading glasses can cost anywhere from $1 to $50+, while a pair of prescription eyeglasses can easily cost upwards of $200. 

While cheap reading glasses aren’t necessarily bad for your eyes, a pair of $10 reading glasses will likely not provide a good visual experience. 

Is there a difference between cheap and expensive reading glasses? What are the best reading glasses?

Lower-quality, less expensive reading glasses tend to be made with low-quality lens materials, which can cause vision distortion, color distortion, or glare. For most people, it’s worth spending a little extra to get glasses that will provide a better visual experience. 

cheap reading glasses can cause distortion


The “best” reading glasses depend on your unique needs. If you only need to use reading glasses once or twice a day for a few minutes, a cheaper pair may be sufficient. If, however, you spend hours doing close-up computer work, you’ll likely be better off selecting a slightly more expensive pair of blue light reading glasses. 

Are prescription reading glasses better than store-bought?

For some people, spending more money to get prescription reading glasses is worth it. This tends to be the case for people who have significant vision differences between their two eyes, issues like astigmatism, or trouble seeing at a distance (in addition to having trouble reading up close).

This doesn’t mean that prescription reading glasses are better than store-bought reading glasses. It just means that certain people have visual needs that may be better suited to prescription reading glasses. 

Are reading glasses FSA eligible?

If you’re worried about the price of reading glasses, you should know that reading glasses are eligible for reimbursement under a flexible spending account (FSA). An FSA is a special account set up through your employer that you contribute money to. You can then use this money to pay for certain out-of-pocket health care costs. The great thing about an FSA is that you don’t pay taxes on this money! 

Wearing Your Reading Glasses

Can you get reading glasses with glass lenses?

While reading glasses with glass lenses used to be popular, they’re quite rare these days due to their heavy weight and risk of breaking. Most modern reading glasses are made with plastic lenses, also referred to as polycarbonate lenses. Plastic lenses are much more affordable and lightweight than glass lenses and are known for high visual clarity.

Can you wear reading glasses all day?

Whether or not you can wear reading glasses all day depends on the type of glasses you have. Non-prescription reading glasses are intended to only be worn when you need to read or look at something up close that you can’t otherwise see clearly. They are not designed for wearing all day, as they’ll make objects further away look distorted and blurry. 

If, however, you have prescription bifocal glasses, you can wear them all day. Bifocals are glasses that have a magnifying segment at the base of the lens and a clear segment at the top. With bifocals, if you look at something through the base of the lenses, objects will appear larger than normal and if you look through the top of the lenses, objects will appear as they normally would. 

Can you wear reading glasses over prescription glasses?

While you might receive a few odd looks if you’re in public, there is no harm in wearing reading glasses over prescription distance glasses. There’s no reason this wouldn’t work and may be a viable solution for short periods of time. Many people, however, prefer to switch between pairs of glasses based on their needs at the moment. 

Addressing Health Concerns

Are reading glasses bad for your eyes?

Some people falsely believe that wearing reading glasses makes their vision worse. This is often because after seeing much clearer while wearing reading glasses, the same print can seem much blurrier than it did before when the reading glasses are removed. 

Another reason people may have this misconception is because presbyopia naturally progresses with age, so your close-up vision will gradually worsen whether or not you’re using reading glasses.

The bottom line: you can be rest assured that reading glasses won’t damage your eyes or make your vision worse. Untreated presbyopia, however, can strain your eyes. When you start wearing reading glasses, you’ll likely notice that your eyes feel better, as you won’t have to strain to read or see things up close.

Can you use blue light glasses for reading?

Most blue light glasses don’t typically include the magnification strength of  reading glasses and, as such, are not suitable for those in need of magnification due to presbyopia. Some companies, however, including GUNNAR, offer blue light reading glasses that provide the magnification of traditional reading glasses plus protection against artificial blue light. 

What does blue light mean in reading glasses?

Blue light protection in reading glasses means that the glasses have special lens technology that filters out the harmful blue-violet light rays that are commonly emitted from digital screens. While the full effects of blue light on people’s eyes are still being studied, research shows that blue light negatively affects sleep and may contribute to retinal cell damage, potentially leading to macular degeneration.

blue light reading glasses explained


At GUNNAR, we offer an assortment of blue light reading glasses that include our patented lens technology to address issues associated with digital eye strain and exposure to artificial blue light, including, dry, irritated eyes, blurry vision, headaches, eyestrain, eye fatigue, and sleep disruption. The result is improved eye health, clarity, focus, and performance. 

Learn more about GUNNAR blue light reading glasses.

Selecting Your Style

How to choose reading glasses frames?

Now that you know all about reading glasses, let’s get to the fun part: choosing your reading glasses! There are a number of factors to consider, including frame color and frame shape. 

In terms of color, some say it’s best to choose a frame color that complements your skin tone. Generally speaking, if you have a cool-colored skin tone, shades of black, gray, and blue may be a better choice. If your skin tone is warm, you may be better suited for warm colors, such as tan, pink, and red. Another thing to consider is which frame color will go best with the majority of clothes in your wardrobe. 

How to choose reading glasses for your face?

As a general rule of thumb, the more round your face shape is (round and oval), the more angular your frames should be; and the more angular your face shape is (square and heart), the rounder the frame shape should be.

choosing the shape of reading glasses


Don’t take those recommendations too seriously, though. If a certain color or style frame is calling your name, by all means, go for it! Reading glasses are not only functional, but offer an opportunity to flaunt your personality and style.  

For more information about choosing glasses for your face shape, click here.

gunnar glasses for square-shaped face
Square face shapes measure about the same length as width.


The bottom line 

Almost everyone will need reading glasses eventually. If you’re experiencing presbyopia—a common and normal age-related vision condition—it’s in your best interest to start wearing reading glasses as needed. Reading glasses provide magnification, allowing you to easily read and see things at a close distance. 

For those with presbyopia who frequently use digital devices, picking up a pair of blue light reading glasses is a must. Blue light reading glasses not only offer magnification, but also provide essential protection against the daily threats that your digital screens pose. Visit GUNNAR’s website to select a pair of stylish blue light reading glasses today! 

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