Will Ready-Made Reading Glasses Harm Your Eyes?

Inexpensive, over-the-counter (OTC) reading glasses are widely available. This might leave you wondering if these mass-produced glasses are as safe as prescription glasses, which typically cost much more.

This article looks at discount and ready-made magnifying reading glasses, what they're designed to do, and whether you should try them.

The Aging Eye

Most people have vision changes as they get older. The most typical and noticeable shift is a loss of near vision. You may find you need to hold things at a further distance in order to focus on them. This is known as presbyopia.

Presbyopia happens when the lens of the eye stiffens. This makes it less able to focus light. Presbyopia also involves changes to the muscle that controls the shape of the lens.

Anything that can make things appear larger will help you see better. This includes simple things like a magnifying glass or the zoom feature on your smartphone or tablet. Reading glasses have this kind of magnifying power, too. They help make small objects and words on a page look bigger so they're easier to see.

Prescription Eyeglasses vs. Ready-Made 

Prescription glasses can correct a few different problems, including:

Normal eyes are round like a soccer ball. Astigmatism occurs when the front of the eye is shaped more like a football. This can cause images to look distorted.

Prescription glasses are customized for you. They correct your specific eye problem, and they are also fitted to your eyes. The optical centers of each lens, where the lens will perform best, are aligned with the centers of each of your eyes' pupils.

Ready-made readers, by contrast, are mass-produced. They serve one purpose only: they magnify the image in front of you. They do not correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism.

tips for using ready-made reading glasses

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Are Over-the-Counter Readers Safe? 

Natalie Hutchings is an associate professor at the University of Waterloo's School of Optometry and Vision Science. She says mass-produced reading glasses will not make you lose your sight, but they can cause problems for some people.

"For many older adults, these reading glasses will be just fine, and will not irreversibly damage your eyes," she says. "If your prescription is not very strong, and you use them for only brief periods of time—to read a quick label at the grocery store, for example—these inexpensive glasses should do no harm."

What Are the Potential Problems?

Hutchings notes that you should have your healthcare provider look at your reading glasses if you are experiencing eye strain or headaches. Some ready-made readers can have optical centers that were off by as much as 2 mm.

Researchers say this could cause eye strain and double vision in many adults. That's why it's a good idea to have your eye care provider measure the optical centers and magnifying power of your OTC eyewear.

Reading glasses are usually available in powers, or strengths, from +1.00 to +4.00. In some states like New York State, it is not legal to sell OTC readers over +2.75 because this power is considered strong enough that you should have an eye exam.

Using Ready-Made Reading Glasses Safely

To protect your vision, choose and use OTC reading glasses carefully.

  • Choose the right power: Select the power that lets you read something at a comfortable distance. Stronger is not necessarily better.
  • Examine the lenses: Look for bubbles, waves, or other distortions that could bother your eyes.
  • Think about what you will use them for: If you need readers for computer work, you may need a lower power than you would for reading something at a close distance, like a book or tablet.
  • Don't use them more than you need to: Some people may do well using readers for the long term. Others, however, should only use them for quick jobs such as reading a label at the grocery store. Talk to your eye care provider about what's best for you.
  • Don't put up with headaches: If you develop headaches after using your readers, take them to your eye care provider. They can let you know if the glasses are the right choice for you.

Finally, don't skip your eye exam because your OTC readers seem to be working for you. How well you can see at different distances is only one aspect of your vision. An ophthalmologist or optometrist can also diagnose potentially serious problems like glaucoma, diabetes, and early-stage retinal detachment even if they aren't causing any symptoms.

Summary

Most people develop vision problems as they get older. Over-the-counter reading glasses magnify details and are an inexpensive way to help you see better, but they may not be right for everyone.

Prescription eyeglasses are customized for you. They correct problems like nearsightedness and astigmatism. Reading glasses don't correct these problems. They may also cause headaches or eye strain if they're the wrong size or poor quality.

If you have any of these symptoms after using OTC readers, have your eye care provider look at them to make sure they're right for you.

3 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. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Presbyopia.

  2. Read SA, Vincent SJ, Collins MJ. The visual and functional impacts of astigmatism and its clinical management. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2014;34(3):267-94. doi:10.1111/opo.12128

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

Additional Reading

By Sharon Basaraba
Sharon Basaraba is an award-winning reporter and senior scientific communications advisor for Alberta Health Services in Alberta, Canada.