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This "disease" will eventually affect 100 percent of people, yet few people even know what it's called. Let's discuss presbyopia, the age-related vision decline that necessitates the use of reading glasses.

When we're young, we're vaguely aware that people seem to start wearing reading glasses as they get older — but when we finally reach that age, we might not realize that it's time to make an appointment with the optician for a while. What do you need to know about reading glasses and presbyopia (the condition that causes the need for them)? Finally, do people need reading glasses at younger and younger ages as we're all glued to screens much of the day?

What Is Presbyopia?

People with normal vision can see objects clearly, both up close and at a distance. Those who can't are nearsighted or farsighted, as well as possibly an astigmatism, and need glasses or contact lenses to correct their vision. Presbyopia isn't like that. This refractive error is a normal part of aging, and it occurs when our lenses can no longer focus light on the retina like before, due to a loss of elasticity. (Yes, the same thing is happening to your skin.) Sooner or later, we'll all develop presbyopia. 

When Do People Start Needing Reading Glasses? What Factors Determine When You'll Need Them?

Presbyopia generally sets in between the ages of 38 and 45, while some people need reading glasses even earlier and others won't have any problems until they are past the age of 50. Once you're over 35, however, it's a good idea to keep an eye on your near vision to determine if you can still read well. 

Some risk factors that increase your odds of needing reading glasses early include:

  • Having a refractive error like nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism — if you already need glasses to correct your vision, you'll also likely need reading glasses earlier. 
  • Trauma, chronic conditions such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis, and the use of certain medications can both cause you to need reading glasses at an earlier age, too. 
  • Finally, yes, you bet that staring at a screen all day will make you need reading glasses earlier. This phenomenon has been dubbed "computer vision syndrome", and it's a form of presbyopia.

What Are the Symptoms of Presbyopia?

You might want to get yourself checked out if you notice that:

  • Close-by objects seem blurrier than before, and you have trouble reading a book or newspaper.
  • You find yourself pushing books and other written messages further away from your eyes to be able to focus on them.
  • Your eyes feel sore and painful much of the time, especially after reading. 
  • You suffer from frequent headaches. 

Can I Just Buy Cheap Reading Glasses From Walmart?

Of course. That's a good stop-gap. However, it's best to get assessed by an ophthalmologist. If you already wear vision correction glasses and you'd like multifocals, it's essential. A professional eye exam ensures that you get the reading glasses you need, rather than going with whatever is on offer. It will help you feel much better in the long run. 

What can you expect from the exam? Well, if you've ever had an eye test, it's very similar to that. Your doctor will check your vision with an ophthalmoscope — that machine you stare into that usually shows you an image of a hot air balloon or a house. You'll then be asked to read numbers from far away, followed by text up close. On the basis of this, your doctor decides what your prescription should be.

As an aside, people who are already wearing glasses when they develop presbyopia have a few different options. You can:

  • Opt to add a pair of reading glasses to your regular glasses. This is annoying, especially if you read a lot, as you will need to switch between glasses all the time. 
  • Opt for multifocals, which are glasses that simultaneously allow you to correct your preexisting refractive error and also allow you to read well. These take some time to get adjusted to, but add a nice layer of convenience over time.
  • Opt to wear contact lenses to correct your vision and add a pair of reading glasses for your presbyopia.
  • Bifocal contact lenses also exist, but are expensive and unpopular.

Does Presbyopia Get Worse Over Time?

Unfortunately, presbyopia does get worse over time. It is best to have a regular yearly checkup with your ophthalmologist, or more often if you have noticed sudden changes. The good news, however, is that presbyopia almost always stops getting worse by the time you are 65 years old.

Can You Get Presbyopia in Your Twenties?

Presbyopia develops slowly, over time, but increasing numbers of people are reporting worsened vision even in their twenties. A very interesting study even noted that the prevalence of presbyopia increased, in people at younger ages, during the COVID-19 pandemic — a result of increased screen use, but also a result of stress (another factor that causes you to need reading glasses earlier). 

Scary! If you don't have presbyopia yet, this could be your warning to get offline and enjoy the real world more often; your screen use could be causing you to get old faster, in ways you probably never considered. If you do notice new vision problems in your twenties, the right answer is always the same — get yourself checked out. Even if your diagnosis is not presbyopia, it is important to take visual changes seriously.


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