What are the Advantages of Bifocal Contact Lenses?

Author: Premier Eye Associates

For many people, contact lenses are a great option for vision correction in comparison to glasses. Many people prefer contacts due to the ability to see all around—including the periphery—without the limitations of a glasses frame.

Others prefer contacts due to their enhanced comfort—not having to worry about glasses sliding down their noses, lenses fogging up in the winter (or when wearing masks), falling off their faces during sporting events, etc.

Some people prefer contacts just for cosmetic reasons! The possibilities with contacts are limitless.

Whatever the case, contact lens wearers typically love their contacts and do not want to switch into glasses. But what happens when we all reach the age of 50ish and need reading glasses? Are there any options for our contact-lens loving individuals to avoid wearing reading glasses over their lenses?

The answer is yes! There are several options to date for contact lenses that allow individuals to see far away and up close, with even more research being done to improve this technology.


Why Do I Need Contact Lenses or Glasses for Reading?

For those individuals who are used to needing correction to see, the sudden struggle to read up close may be a bit confusing. This is especially true for those who are myopic, also known as being near-sighted, where one can see well up close but have a hard time seeing far away.

If myopia sounds familiar to you, you may notice that if you wear glasses instead of contact lenses that your up-close vision is clear when removing your glasses. Thus your “near vision” has not necessarily gotten “bad”. So why can you no longer see well up close when wearing contacts?

To begin to understand this change, it is best to understand some basic eye anatomy. There are two parts to the eye responsible for your prescription—the cornea and the lens.

The cornea is the outermost structure of your eye—it is thin and clear. A prescription depends on the curvature of the cornea. It can be shaped like a perfect circle (spherical) or be shaped a little more like an oval (astigmatic/toric).

The lens is the center structure of the eye. It is a clear, flexible structure held in place by a muscle called the ciliary body. When the ciliary body flexes it makes the lens expand, increasing its power, so that it can focus well for up-close—this process is called accommodation.

For individuals who are far-sighted, accommodation can be used in low prescriptions to focus through blur and see well up close. These individuals may suffer from eye strain and may need reading glasses earlier in life than myopes.

Regardless of prescription type, with normal aging, the lens becomes less flexible and we lose the ability to accommodate (i.e. the lens is no longer able to enlarge to see well up close). This is a slow process that occurs over time but becomes noticeable as early as 40 years old in some individuals.

As accommodation becomes less and less, we need higher and higher reading prescriptions—a +1.00 “cheater” pair of glasses may be able to get you by initially, but by the age of 50 or so you may need a +2.00 diopter or more pair of reading glasses.

This is where contact lenses can get a little complicated.

What are My Options as a Contact Lens Wearer Needing Reading Glasses?

There are three major solution options for those who wear contact lenses to see well far away and up close.

The simplest of the bunch is to get a pair of over-the-counter reading glasses and simply wear them when reading or as needed for near tasks. These reading glasses are worn in addition to the normal distance contact lens prescription. This can become frustrating, however, when you forget your glasses at home as most contact lenses wearers typically are not used to carrying their glasses around with them.

The next option is called “Monovision Contacts”.

Monovision contact lenses involve having one contact lens prescription set to correct distance vision and the other lens prescription set to correct near vision.

For example, let’s say Bobby is a 52 year old contact lens wearer needing a -4.00 diopter contact lens to correct his distance vision. To see well up close, his eye doctor determines he needs a +2.00 diopter add. Therefore, Bobby is prescribed a -4.00 diopter contact to wear in his right eye and a -2.00 diopter contact lens to wear in his left eye. Bobby will use his right eye to see far away, and his left eye to see up close for reading tasks.

Monovision contact lenses take a little bit of adjustment to get used to, as neither eye is set to see well at both distances, but instead each eye is set for optimal vision at different tasks. Thus, the brain needs to adapt to this setup.

When first beginning to wear monovision contact lenses, it is recommended to try and wear the lenses all day for 1-2 weeks to give the brain time to adapt to the variation between the two eyes. Wearing the lenses for 2 hours and then switching to glasses for the rest of the day will not give the brain ample time to adapt to the lenses, and thus may result in blur and headaches when wearing the lenses. Monovision is a form of prescription that the wearer must really commit to in order to avoid adverse effects.

The alternative contact lens option is called multifocal contact lenses. These are contact lenses with a built in add portion to the lens.

Multifocal contact lenses are very complex, as the contact moves with the eye. Thus, multifocal contact lenses cannot be made quite as personalized as a pair of multifocal glasses (bifocals, trifocals, progressives).

Most multifocals are made with what is called a “concentric design”. The best way to describe this is like a contact lens with a bullseye pattern, with each ring being a step of plus power—making the center of the contact lens best for distance correction and the outer ring best for near work. The “rings” are invisible and all blended together so the lens will look just like the lenses you are used to.

As noted before, multifocal lenses are more “set” in their design. They do not have quite the vast variability in prescription of monovision contacts or glasses, but for the most part they provide the needed correction. There may just be a little give-and-take—the wearer may need to decide which viewing distance needs to be the best and settle a little bit on the clarity of the other.

For example, and individual who spends 10+ hours a day on the computer may want to focus primarily on clear near vision and be alright with a little less-than perfect distance vision. It’s all variable and dependent on the individual.

Regardless of which type of correction you choose to try, understand that there will be some trial and error to find the fit that works best for your lifestyle. These lenses are quite complex and several fittings may be needed to find the happy medium.

Contact lens companies are working on improving technology and designs for the contacts every day. Each year new brands are released that are only getting better and better!


Dr. Anthony Spina and the staff of Premier Eye Associates specialize in glasses, soft contact lenses, hard contact lenses, and medical eye exams. Call our eye doctor in Auburn, AL today at (334) 539-5391 or schedule an appointment online  if you are interested in multifocal contact lenses.  Our optometrist provides only the highest quality eye care services amongst eye doctors in the Auburn Alabama area.


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