Can Pinhole Glasses Improve Your Vision?

Most People Won't See Much Benefit

Pinhole glasses are eyeglasses with lenses that consist of many tiny holes filling an opaque sheet of plastic. Also called stenopeic glasses, they block indirect rays of light from entering the eye. This prevents the rays from distorting your vision.

By letting less light into your eye, some people claim these glasses allow them to see more clearly.

This article will go over how pinhole glasses work and whether wearing pinhole glasses can improve your vision.

A pair of pinhole glasses laying down
Mykola Sosiukin / Getty Images

How Pinhole Glasses Work

Pinhole glasses have several uses. Some people use them as a treatment for myopia, also known as nearsightedness. Other people wear them to try to improve astigmatism.

Some people strongly feel that pinhole glasses treat vision conditions, but the evidence is lacking.

Squinting achieves the same thing as pinhole glasses because it reduces the size of indirect light rays that land on the retina. You can do the same thing by making a small circle with your thumb and your pointer and looking through it. You might not notice much of a difference if you don't have any significant vision problems. If you wear corrective lenses, however, you will notice an improvement, sometimes a significant one.

Pinhole glasses are mainly used by eye care specialists as a diagnostic tool. Many eye doctors use an occluder, an instrument used to cover one of your eyes while reading the eye chart. On one end, the occluder is solid. On the other end, the occluder has many tiny pinholes.

Sometimes healthcare providers use this to quickly see the potential of your vision. For example, if someone comes in for an office visit for an eye infection and they can only read the 20/70 size of letters on the eye chart, the doctor might wonder if it's the result of an eye infection or being nearsighted.

To quickly find out, the healthcare provider may perform a “pinhole” visual acuity test. If the patient looks through the pinholes and reads 20/25, then it could be assumed that most of the decreased vision is not due to the infection, but rather some type of uncorrected vision problem. It may be safe to assume that the infection may be reducing the vision only slightly.

The healthcare provider may not have time to find out what type of prescription the patient might need, because the person may have come in only to have the infection treated. Therefore, the pinhole test is a very quick way to find out more information about a person’s eye condition. Pinhole glasses are used in other ways to evaluate corneal distortion and cataracts.

Should You Try Pinhole Glasses?

For most of us, pinhole glasses are not functional enough to wear for day-to-day tasks. In general, pinhole glasses should only be used for diagnostic testing in the office.

People who have a significantly high prescription and break or lose their glasses may want to keep a pair of pinhole glasses around for emergency purposes.

Patients with aniridia may also benefit from pinhole glasses. Aniridia describes a complete or partial absence of the iris. The iris acts to control the amount of light allowed to enter the eye. When the iris is absent, the patient may suffer debilitating glare and visual distortion to the point where regular glasses or sunglasses do not help. The pinhole glasses will limit the amount of light coming in and produce clearer vision.

Summary

Pinhole glasses not only reduce brightness but also decrease peripheral vision. Therefore, they are unsafe to wear while driving or operating machinery. In almost all cases, other forms of correction will obtain a clearer vision. 

Many companies, including several on the web, advertise pinhole glasses. These companies often make extravagant claims about their benefits. You may have read that pinhole glasses clear vision by reducing refractive errors and permanently improving vision. However, no evidence exists to fully support these claims.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long can you wear pinhole glasses?

    Pinhole glasses are really meant to be used at your eye provider's office rather than at home. Pinhole glasses narrow your vision, so you should not wear them when you're doing your basic daily activities. You also should not wear pinhole glasses when you're doing certain activities that require you to have peripheral vision, like driving.

  • Does wearing pinhole glasses have side effects?

    Wearing pinhole glasses narrow your vision and decrease your peripheral vision. It's sort of the same thing that happens when you squint. You might have eye strain or headaches from wearing pinhole glasses, just like you would if you were squinting for a long time.

  • Do cataracts improve with pinhole glasses?

    An eye care provider may use pinhole glasses in the office to evaluate someone for cataracts. People with the condition may note that their vision is better during the exam, but pinhole glasses are not considered a standard cataract treatment.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kim WS, Park IK, Chun YS. Quantitative analysis of functional changes caused by pinhole glasses. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2014;55(10):6679-85. doi:10.1167/iovs.14-14801

  2. Jose RT. Chapter 1. In: Understanding Low Vision Ed. by Randall T. Jose. 2004.

  3. Kim WS, Park IK, Park YK, Chun YS. Comparison of Objective and Subjective Changes Induced by Multiple-Pinhole Glasses and Single-Pinhole GlassesJ Korean Med Sci. 2017;32(5):850-857. doi:10.3346/jkms.2017.32.5.850

  4. Carlson AS, Carlson WA, Harris WF. The potential of the pinhole as a visual aid in the developing world. Afr Vision Eye Health. 2016;75(1), a318. doi:10.4102/aveh.v75i1.318

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.