Tips for Buying Reading Glasses

At around the age of 40, many people notice changes in their vision. You may feel like your eyes don't focus up close like they used to. Your vision may seem slow to focus from near to far.

You might also notice that you're squinting to read. If you don't already wear prescription glasses or contact lenses, you may wonder if it's time to pick up a pair of reading glasses ("readers").

Over-the-counter (OTC) reading glasses come in many colors and styles. They also have different strengths, known as "powers." With all these options, how will you know which one to buy?

This article will go over what you need to know about buying reading glasses.

Tips for Buying Reading Glasses
Verywell / Brooke Pelczynski

Schedule an Eye Exam

Age-related changes to your vision are probably why you are having a harder time reading. However, blurry vision can also be a sign of a serious eye problem or disease.

Before you pick up a pair of OTC readers, make an appointment with an eye doctor for a comprehensive eye examination.


After your eye exam, you might learn that you have a common condition called presbyopia. It's also called "farsightedness."

Presbyopia happens when the crystalline lenses in your eyes become less flexible. It can also happen if the muscle that supports the lens gets weaker.

Having presbyopia makes it harder for your eyes to focus on objects that are close to you. That's why you notice it when you're trying to read.

Prescription Reading Glasses

Your eye health care provider may recommend that you get prescription reading glasses instead of OTC readers.

You might wonder why they want you to get prescription glasses when you just need a little help seeing when you read.

For one, prescription glasses address specific problems with your vision and correct them. Over-the-counter readers are really just magnifiers.

Can I Wear Readers With Contacts?

You might have prescription contact lenses for one vision problem, like astigmatism.

Rather than having a second pair of prescription glasses for reading, your eye care provider might suggest you get a pair of readers that you can use with your contacts.

That way, you won't have to switch between two pairs of glasses or between glasses and contact lenses.

Here are a few reasons that your provider might recommend you get prescription lenses rather than an OTC pair:

  • Different strengths: The strengths or powers in OTC readers are the same in each eye. You may need a different power for each eye. Looking through readers of the wrong power can cause eye strain because one eye has to work harder than the other.
  • Specific vision problems: OTC readers do not correct astigmatism, but prescription glasses do. Many people have a small amount of astigmatism. You might just feel that your vision is "a little off" if you have it. If you don't fix astigmatism, it can cause headaches and tired eyes.
  • Custom fit: OTC readers are basically one size fits all. Prescription reading glasses are custom-made for your eyes. That means the optical center of each lens lines up exactly with the center of your pupils. If the optical center does not line up with your pupil, you'll end up looking at the side of the lens. Wearing glasses that don't fit well can cause eye strain and imbalances in the eye muscles.
  • Nearsightedness: OTC readers won't help if you're nearsighted. Nearsighted people usually need a minus, or negative, lens. OTC glasses come in plus, or positive, powered lenses only.
  • Quality: Prescription lenses are made to ensure the glass in each lens has no distortions, waves, or bubbles. OTC readers, particularly if they're low-quality, may have these defects.

Over-the-Counter Readers

You may not need prescription lenses. Your provider will tell you if ready-made OTC readers are enough to help with your vision.

Your provider will also tell you which power to get. That said, make sure you tell them about your job and hobbies. These activities may change which power they recommended for you.

For example, if you're on a computer all day at work, you'll need a different power than if you have a hobby that requires a lot of fine detail work, like needlecraft.


The powers—or strengths—of reading glasses go from +1.00 to +4.00. These numbers are called diopters. They tell you how much magnification the lenses have.

Usually, powers go up in increments of 0.25. That means you don't have to jump right to +2.00 if +1.00 is not enough. You might find that +1.25 or +1.50 is the sweet spot to help you read.

OTC readers are available at drugstores, big box stores, grocery stores, and even bookstores. You can also get them online.

Generally, a pair of readers will cost under $20. It depends on whether you go for a basic pair or a pair that has other features, like tinted lenses or accessories. You might want to buy some cleaner and special cloth to keep the lenses in good shape, just as you would with a prescription pair.

Some people like to buy several inexpensive readers and keep them in different places—for example, in the car, in the kitchen, and by their bed. That way, they'll always have a pair handy when they need to read something.


If you're noticing that it's getting harder to read as you get older, age-related eye changes might be to blame. But since serious eye health conditions can cause vision changes, make an appointment with your eye health provider to get your vision checked.

You might be able to get by with having a few pairs of reading glasses that you can buy over the counter.

However, if you have other vision conditions, like nearsightedness, you might need to get prescription lenses.

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9 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.
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  5. West CE, Hunter DG. Displacement of optical centers in over-the-counter readers: a potential cause of diplopiaJ AAPOS. 2014;18(3):293-4. doi:10.1016/j.jaapos.2014.01.008

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