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Are drugstore reading glasses bad for your eyes? - (5/15/2018)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Mitch was in the pharmacy trying on readers at the eyeglass kiosk. “Hey, doc. These glasses are so much cheaper than at the optical place I go to. Are they OK for my eyes?” The pharmacist explained that the readers – or over-the-counter (OTC) glasses – can be helpful if they are used correctly. Prescription glasses can correct various problems, including nearsightedness (difficulty viewing distant objects), farsightedness (trouble seeing things that are close), and astigmatism (an imperfection in the curvature of the eye that results in distorted images). Ready-made readers, by contrast, are mass-produced and designed for one purpose only—to magnify the image in front of you. They will not correct farsightedness or astigmatism.

Make sure that the readers you buy have the correct magnification for your eyes. If the prescription from your eye doctor says something like "+2.00 sph" or "+2.00 DS," OTC readers should work fine for you. But if it says something like +2.00-1.25 X 087, those extra numbers behind the +2.00 mean you need correction for astigmatism (the second number could be a + instead of a -, depending on what kind of doctor you went to). The larger the second number is, the more correction for astigmatism you need. Readers are not recommended in those cases. However, if you are strapped for cash and your insurance does not help you, then OTC glasses would be better than nothing. But, you would be losing any correction for astigmatism, and you would probably suffer from eyestrain if you used them for any length of time.

When you look at OTC readers, the first things you will see are tags with numbers such as +1.0, +1.5, +2.25, +3.0, +3.5, +4.0. These numbers represent the corrective strength of eyeglass lenses. The units are known as diopters and are typically measured in increments of 0.25 units to differentiate stronger and weaker corrective powers. Someone who would need strong vision correction will likely need readers with a strength of +3.0 or greater, while someone who needs only minor vision correction would likely wear readers with a strength of +1.5 or less. To find the strength you need, grab a box of cold medicine or some other medication at the pharmacy and see if you can read the microscopic directions on the back of the box. 

Use OTC readers safely. Choose only the power that allows you to read something from a comfortable distance. Stronger is not necessarily better. Examine the glasses for bubbles, waves, or other distortions that could bother your eyes. Use these readers for quick jobs only, like reading a label at the grocery store. If you do develop headaches, take your OTC glasses to the eye doctor so the readers can be evaluated. A 2014 study showed that OTC readers do not undergo the same quality control as prescription eyeglasses. If your readers are flawed in any way, the result can be fatigue, red eyes, eyestrain, eye pain, blurred vision, headache, and possible double vision. Finally, do not skip a regular eye exam even if these OTC readers work for you. Visual acuity is only one aspect of vision that an eye doctor will evaluate. The doctor can also diagnose potentially serious problems like diabetes and retinal detachment in their early stages when there may be no visual symptoms. 

Mitch found a pair of readers that he liked. Yet, he understood that his vision will need to be checked periodically by an eye doctor. “I will need them when I read the sports pages,” he quipped.

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com 

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