How to Buy Reading Glasses

Whether you choose OTC or prescription glasses, these tips can help

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If you've noticed that you squint when you read, you might be wondering if it's time to buy a pair of reading glasses (a.k.a. readers). The process seems easy enough. While prescription options are recommended for some people, over-the-counter reading glasses seem to be available just about everywhere.

That doesn't mean you should just use any old pair, however. Aside from different colors and styles, reading glasses come in different strengths. Which you should use depends on your vision and habits.

This article will help you learn how to buy reading glasses.

Tips for Buying Reading Glasses
Verywell / Brooke Pelczynski

Schedule an Eye Exam

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

Your vision changes are likely to be age-related, 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, which is age-related farsightedness.

This 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.

Over-the-Counter Reading Glasses

Over-the-counter reading glasses are simply magnifiers. Your provider will tell you if ready-made OTC readers are enough to help with your vision.

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.

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.

You might want to also buy some cleaner and special cloth to keep the lenses in good shape, just as you would with a prescription pair.

What Strength Reading Glasses Do You Need?

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.

Your provider will 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 recommend 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.

Everyone's eyes are different, but people of different age ranges typically require certain strengths of reading glasses.

Strength of Reading Glasses by Age
 Age Range  Reader Strength
Early 40s  +1.00
Mid 40s  +1.25 to +1.50
Late 40s/early 50s  +1.50 to +1.75
Mid 50s  +1.75 to +2.00
Late 50s +2.00 to +2.25
Early 60s +2.25 to +2.50
Mid 60s and above +2.50 to +3.00

Prescription Reading Glasses

Your eye health care provider may recommend that you get prescription reading glasses instead of OTC readers. Whereas OTC readers make things larger, prescription glasses address specific problems with your vision and correct them.

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.

Can I Wear Readers With Contacts?

Yes. For example, you may have contact lenses to help correct an astigmatism and a pair of readers for reading. This is helpful, as you would otherwise need to switch between two pairs of glasses or between contacts and prescription glasses.


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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do readers weaken your eyes?

    No. Over time, your near eyesight may naturally get worse, which means you'll need to switch to stronger readers. This has nothing to do with the use of readers, however.

  • Is there a difference in the quality of reading glasses?

    Generally speaking, there isn't much difference in quality between an expensive pair of readers and an inexpensive one.

8 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. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What Is Presbyopia?.

  2. Brown B. The Low Vision Handbook for Eyecare Professionals. 2nd ed. Slack.

  3. American Academy of Optometry. Evaluation of Over-The-Counter Multifocal Reading Glasses.

  4. Treacy MP, Treacy MG, Dimitrov BD, et al. A method for the prescription of inexpensive spectacles by non-specialist healthcare workers: S-Glasses. Eye (Lond). 2013;27(4):474-9. doi:10.1038/eye.2012.286

  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

  6. Yanoff M, Duker JS, Augsburger JJ, eds. Ophthalmology. Mosby, Elsevier.

  7. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Nearsightedness: What Is Myopia?

  8. Schott Technical Information. TIE-28: Bubbles and Inclusions In Optical Glass.

Additional Reading

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.