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Thursday, January 28, 2021

Is It Ok To Buy Reading Glasses at the Dollar Store?

We all want to save money, but experts chime in on what to consider when you’re buying readers.

As you age, you may find yourself having a hard time reading prescription drug labels, threading a needle, or figuring out what’s on the menu. Just reading a book can get harder than it was in your 30s or 40s. It’s a common problem due to a condition called presbyopia, where the lens in your eye loses flexibility, which makes it difficult to focus on close objects. The result is that you need a little extra help in the form of readers, or “cheaters,” that magnify close-up tasks.

Are $1 Glasses Safe?

Many health plans, including Medicare, don’t cover vision care costs. Once you need readers, you may find yourself buying them by the handful since there never seems to be a pair where and when you need them. The cost can add up, unless you start searching out the cheapest models you can find: usually the $1 a pair readers at your local dollar store. But are these inexpensive lenses hurting your eyes?

"These glasses may be fine for people who need the same refraction in both eyes or who have vision in only one eye. I tell patients who are in these situations to go ahead and use them," says Dr. Eli Peli, professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. Ophthalmologist Dr. Michelle Andreoli, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, backs him up. ”Reading glasses from a drugstore are in fact perfectly safe,” she says, and adds that low-cost dollar store options or over-the-counter eyeglasses will not harm your eyesight. 

What Strength Is Right?

Unfortunately, once your vision starts to decline, it is likely to get worse until you hit your mid-60s. Reading glasses come in a range of powers, from +1.00 to +3.00 and above, although it can be illegal to sell a higher magnification in many states. If you’re trying to figure out what strength is right for you, Andreoli suggests taking a greeting card from that aisle and trying on different glasses until you find what works best. 

If you’re unsure, follow the advice of optometrist Dr. William Reynolds, president of the American Optometric Association. “In most cases, when two reading-glass powers seem equally suitable, choose the glasses with the lower power,” he says. “Picking reading glasses that are too strong typically will cause more discomfort problems than reading glasses that are a little too weak.”

Glasses for computer work will typically require 0.75 lower lens power than for other reading. So, for example, if you normally use +2.25 for reading, get a pair of +1.50 strength to use while you’re at the computer. You might also want to get them with blue-light filters (which also block out damaging UV light) for better sleep.

When You Need an Eye Exam

“OTC readers are made to a standard pupillary distance, or the distance from the center of the right eye to the center of the left,” says optometrist Dr. Karina Sigulinsky of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “If your eyes are closer together or farther apart than that standard, you might not be able to see very well.”

Some people need a different strength, or correction, for each eye. You may also have astigmatism, a result of irregularities in the eye lens, or you could require correction for distance vision. In those cases, prescription glasses are better. Quick, inexpensive exams are available at Walmart, Costco (you don’t have to be a member), and many stores selling eyeglasses. Online stores like Zenni feature prescription glasses starting as low as $6. This article on how to find inexpensive eyeglasses is full of useful tips, including how to compare different lens materials and coatings.

Most of us will need eyeglasses to help with reading and other close-up tasks as we arrive at middle age. While getting an eye exam is preferable, inexpensive, over-the-counter readers are a safe solution for the vast majority. It’s good to know that you won’t have to spend an arm and a leg to help your eyes. 

Click below for the other articles in the January 2021 Senior Spirit