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Understanding Reading Glasses

If you are you squinting to read this, or you struggle to find the right distance to hold your book or phone while reading, then it might be time to consider reading glasses.

Choosing the right reading glasses can be a little daunting if you’ve never done it before. I’ll walk you through what you need to know so you can decide what’s best for you.

Before you get worried about being able to afford glasses, know they don’t have to be expensive. If you’re eyes are only having a hard time while reading, reading glasses (commonly called readers) should do the trick. Good news, readers are not expensive!

Before we jump into the best readers for you, let’s take a moment to explain what’s going on with your eyes and why readers can help.


Just like everything else with our bodies, time takes it’s toll. Your eyes are no exception. Just like your joints, over time your eyes become less flexible. This is called presbyopia. Presbyopia is a common vision disorder that results in your eye’s inability to focus up close. Some call it the aging eye condition.

Here’s what happens. As you get older the natural lens on your eye gets harder, making it more difficult for your eye to focus light directly on the retina.

The National Eye Institute says “aging also affects muscle fibers around the lens making it harder for the eye to focus on up close objects. The ineffective lens causes light to focus behind the retina, causing poor vision for objects that are up close.”

In layman’s terms, your eyes think what you’re looking at is farther away than it really is. Try putting your hand 12 inches from your face, but look past it 10-12 feet. How much detail are you able to see? Not much right?

Because your lens has hardened, it’s having trouble adjusting.

This can happen as early as 35 years old. When you were younger that lens was soft and flexible, able to reshape to focus on objects that are close and far away.


Here are some of the signs and symptoms of presbyopia:

• Hard time reading small print, especially in dim light

• Having to hold reading material farther than arm’s distance

• Problems seeing close objects

• Headaches

• Eyestrain


Before you call your doctor to schedule an eye exam, there is actually something you can do right now. It’s called the Diopter test. This test will help you see if you need readers and if you do, which ones.


Print the paper and follow the instructions.

Hold the paper 16-18 inches from your face. Start to read the line with the lowest number (+1.00). Continue to read the line above until the words become clear. Then look to the left and see your diopter measurement.


You may be inclined to just run to your nearest drug store and pick up a pair of reading glasses, let me give you one piece of advice first. Take a book with you.

If this is your first time getting reading glasses, having a book will allow you to test the different powers of the reading glasses to see what strength works best. This will save you a trip back to the store if you end up grabbing a pair of readers that just don’t seem right when you sit down to read.


A diopter is a unit of measurement of the optical power of a lens and how it relates to distance. When you look for reading glasses you’ll see they start with +1.00 and increase in .25 increments until +3.25.

The higher the number the stronger the correction.


Once you take the test and have your number, you’re ready to try on some readers. Start with the lowest number then work your way up until you find which pair makes it easiest to read.

You may bounce back and forth between strengths. Everybody is different and every eye is different, so take your time and figure out what works best for you.

Generally, if it’s your first pair of readers start with a 1.00 Power and slowly work your way up to the desired power to improve your vision.


Some people think reading glasses are just fancy magnifiers, making words bigger so you don’t have to hold something so close to your face. They’re far from it.

What readers do that magnifiers don’t, is help your eye focus. If you find the right pair of readers you’ll notice your headaches will go away, you’ll be able to hold your phone or a book at a comfortable distance, rather than at your nose or farther than your arm can reach. You’ll notice your eyes won’t get tired as fast and small print will be much easier to read.

The right reading glasses will be a big benefit to you. Your eyes will thank you.


There are a few tricks you should know to make sure you get the most out of your reading glasses.

Normal reading of a book or your phone is done about 18 inches from your face. If you find yourself needing to do something closer to your face, like doing detailed model work, then you'll want to increase your diopter number. How close it is to your face will depend on how much of an increase you need.

If your number is +2.00 when you read at a normal distance (18 inches), jump to +3.00 if you need to read something in four to ten inches from your face. If it’s eight to twelve inches your increase would be by +.50, bringing you up from +2.00 to +2.50.

If you spend quite a bit of time on a computer, you’ll want to do the opposite. The farther away the monitor the more you’ll lower the power.

If your monitor is 30 to 36 inches away, then you’ll want to decrease your power by .25. If your number is +2.00, then you’ll want to grab a pair of glasses at +1.75. If you need to read something 36 to 48 inches away, drop the power by .50, bringing our example to +1.50.

As a rule, you should increase your diopter number the closer you move something to your face, and decrease your number as the object moves farther away. If you need to read anything past four feet, reading glasses will not have much of an affect.

The more you increase your number, the closer your focal point. As you decrease your number, your focal point moves farther away.

Here’s a chart that breaks it all down.


Now that you have your diopter measurement and a better understanding of what’s going on with your eyes, it’s time to pick out your readers.

Remember, as you get older your eyes will continue to change. Come back every six to twelve months and take the diopter test again. See if your number has changed. Chances are, over time, it will.

When that happens, you now have nothing to fear. The daunting task of figuring out what’s wrong with your eyes and what you should do about it is over.

Good luck and enjoy reading! 

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