As you age, your eyes age too. They’ve put in a lot of hard work over the years, and now they may need a bit of assistance when it comes to seeing things clearly at different distances.
For example, you may have noticed that your close vision isn’t what it used to be. Reading a book might require reading glasses, and you may be taking off your normal prescription glasses for certain tasks. It’s a lot of switching around and feeling out what’s comfortable—and that’s where progressives come in.
What Are Progressive Lenses?
Progressive lenses look like any other prescription lens you might have in your glasses. But, they have a hidden talent: each one contains multiple prescriptions, or “powers.”
If you need separate eye prescriptions to see clearly at different distances, progressive lenses can likely accommodate all of them with a single pair of glasses. They enable you to do tasks that require close-up vision, intermediate vision, and distance vision without swapping frames or taking glasses off.
Progressive glasses go by a few names. You may hear them referred to as “no-line” bifocals, trifocals, or multifocals, or even as varifocals. Some people call them progressive addition lenses, which can be shortened to the (very cute) acronym PAL.
How Do Progressive Lenses Work?
Progressive lenses have zones meant for close-up, intermediate, and distance vision. These zones blend into one another, so the change in power is—you guessed it—progressive, rather than abrupt.
Typically, the top portion of the lens helps with distance viewing, and comes into play as you look straight ahead. The middle portion is meant for intermediate viewing, such as when you consult your computer screen by looking slightly below your eye level. Finally, the near vision zone tends to be at the bottom of the lens, and makes tasks like reading and sewing a breeze.
Progressives vs. Single-Vision Lenses
So, what’s the difference between progressive lenses and regular lenses? Although they look the same, progressives offer multiple prescription strengths within one lens, whereas single-vision lenses feature only one prescription strength.
If you already wear single-vision lenses and think you may also need progressives, don’t worry—your progressive lenses can incorporate your current single-vision prescription, so objects at every distance come across crystal-clear.
Progressives vs. Bifocals and Trifocals
Progressives, bifocals, and trifocals are all types of multifocal lenses. However, the latter two types divide their different zones with visible lines, and don’t have the seamless gradations between powers that progressives do.
When you look at a bifocal lens, you’ll be able to see the distinct field meant for near vision; it’s often a half-moon-shaped area positioned at the bottom of the lens.
Likewise, you’ll be able to point to the three outlined zones for near, intermediate, and distance vision on a trifocal lens.
Progressive lenses have zero lines disrupting the surface of the lens. They also cover a much wider range of powers than bifocals and trifocals.
A person wearing bifocals might struggle to see something at an intermediate (think: arm’s-length) distance away, because there’s no “in-between” zone on the lens—there are only distance- and near-vision zones. With progressives, you’ll almost always be able to find the right power for your vision needs.
Who Should Wear Progressive Glasses?
Progressives can address multiple vision problems, but they’re most commonly used to correct the effects of presbyopia.
Presbyopia is an age-related eye condition caused by the thickening of the eye’s lens and the weakening of the muscles around it. When the lens cannot be moved or focused as easily, your near vision becomes worse, and objects appear blurry when they’re close-up.
Presbyopia symptoms typically start to appear around age 40, and more than half of the population will experience them. It’s no wonder that progressives are getting more and more popular!
Wearing progressive glasses isn’t necessarily a sign of your age, however. They’ve also proven helpful for children who have eye muscle and/or eye-focusing issues.
Progressive Glasses: Pros and Cons
If you’re considering switching to progressive lenses, you’ll want to know the benefits and other factors to keep in mind before making the change.
Progressive Lens Benefits
Progressive lenses can benefit your eyes in a whole host of ways.
1. You’ll only need one pair of glasses for all your activities.
Wearing progressives means no swapping your prescription glasses for reading glasses, computer glasses, or anything else—and no forgetting where you last put them. (No more taking off your distance glasses to read! And you’re less likely to lose your frames because you’re not removing them.) Any prescription you’d need for close-up, intermediate, or distance vision is built right in.
So, you could read a travel book, look up a destination on the computer, then drive there while reading road signs—all while wearing the same pair of glasses. (At Warby Parker, we can outfit them with blue-light protection, too!)
2. Progressives don’t have a disruptive “jump” between lens powers.
When you wear bifocals or trifocals, switching between the different powers on the lens can cause “image jump,” or the impression that whatever you’re looking at has moved suddenly. Jumps like these can be irritating, or worse: in severe cases, they can lead to nausea.
With progressives, the different powers blend together seamlessly and without lines, which means no jump as you switch from one prescription strength to another.
3. Progressives can be better for your posture, and even help to prevent computer vision syndrome.
Compared to bifocals, progressive lenses might be easier on your neck and posture. Bifocal users often have to keep craning or moving their heads as they alternate between the top and bottom viewing fields of their lenses, trying to find the ideal zone for viewing a given object.
Bifocals make intermediate viewing a challenge, because their two zones are meant for near and distance vision. Looking at a computer screen for extended periods of time can therefore be extra difficult, and exacerbate the effects of computer vision syndrome. (Bifocals were more common before we all started being glued to our computers, so they’re not ideally equipped for the distance between you and a laptop sitting on your desk.)
Progressive lenses may help with these issues. They have a designated middle area for intermediate vision that blends into the top and bottom of the lens for easier switching.
4. Progressives don’t draw attention to themselves or your age.
To some people, wearing bifocals or trifocals with obvious lines on the lenses is an undesirable marker of their age. Others might simply prefer glasses with a more even, natural presentation.
Progressives look exactly like “regular” prescription glasses with uninterrupted and transparent lenses. And, just like with any eye prescription, you can choose frames that match your personal style; take our quiz to find which glasses frame styles are your favorites.
5. Progressives pair well with contacts.
If you’re someone who switches between glasses and contact lenses, you can still wear both once you start using progressives. Multifocal contact lenses work in much the same way as progressive lenses, with different zones built into the design of the lens for multiple types of distance viewing.
Monovision lenses are another option. With these lenses, one eye corrects for distance vision and the other corrects for near vision. Your brain eventually adjusts to using the appropriate eye depending on what you’re trying to view.
Talk to your optometrist if you think you’d be a good candidate for either monovision or multifocal contacts.
Progressive Lens Drawbacks
Thankfully, the drawbacks associated with progressive lenses are largely minor and temporary.
1. It can take time to adjust to seeing through progressive lenses.
Learning how to get used to progressive lenses is mostly a matter of time and practice. You’ll need to adapt to using the different areas of the lenses to see at different distances.
Usually, you’re coached to look straight ahead for distance vision, a bit below eye-level for intermediate vision, and even lower than that for close-up tasks. Adjusting to these zones can take a week or two, and may cause dizziness or nausea in some cases.
Initially, progressives can also cause some visual distortions in your peripheral vision. If you notice that your sight gets fuzzy when you look to the sides, give yourself some time to acclimate. These effects should diminish as you become more familiar with your glasses.
Also helpful? Getting your new pair adjusted to your face! Warby Parker offers free lifetime adjustments, so you can always come in and get your frames fine-tuned to your features.
2. Progressive lenses cost a bit more than other multifocal lenses.
Compared to bifocals and trifocals, progressives may seem like an expensive option. But given their convenient, streamlined design and the fact that they correct vision at so many distances, most wearers find the price to be worth it.
Tips for Wearing Progressive Lenses
- Practice aiming your head, and not just your eyes, in the direction you’d like to look. Otherwise, flicking your eyes back and forth might cause you to switch fields too rapidly and interfere with your vision.
- When walking, try to look straight ahead rather than at your ground or your feet. Because the bottoms of your lenses are typically meant for close-up tasks, looking down at your feet can cause your vision to become too magnified.
- Wear your progressives as often as you can to become accustomed to them. That said, monitor yourself for visual distortion or discomfort, and feel free to steadily work up to longer periods of wear. (Never keep using any piece of eyewear that causes you consistent distress!)
- Always follow your eye doctor’s instructions and advice. If you’re having trouble adapting to your progressives, let them know—they’ll be able to adjust your prescription, assess the fit of your glasses, or give you more guidance.