Understanding Lenses In The Digital Age

by Dr. Kimberly Douglas // April - May - June 2023

Do you find yourself constantly looking for a pair of readers that are never where they should be? We can relate! Do you find yourself constantly switching between multiple pairs of glasses or continually taking your glasses on and off? We see you! Please know that you are not alone in this struggle … we are here to help. Let’s get down to the basics and discuss ways to make your life much easier by improving your visual needs.

What is Presbyopia or “Old Eyes?”

Unfortunately, this really is a thing. As we age, our visual system stops working as efficiently as it once did. The lens inside the eye starts to cloud and harden, making it less clear and flexible. This in turn makes it much harder to focus on small details up close. This does happen to everyone to some degree, but it may occur at different times. Your overall vision and health of your eyes do affect the onset of these symptoms. Eye doctors generally say that you will start noticing these changes between the ages of 40 and 45, but this may look different for everyone.

Many find that this phenomenon can happen almost overnight. When these changes start to occur, we begin talking about the need for bifocals and progressives. We are all familiar with the traditional lined bifocal, but we are going to focus on a variety of options we now have with “no-line” progressive lenses.

Standard Progressive Lenses (PALs): Traditional or standard progressives were first successfully introduced in the 1960s. Those same lenses are still being used today and are also known as multifocals, varifocals, PALs, or no-lined bifocals. These glasses are essentially three glasses in one, allowing you to see distance, computer range, and reading out of one pair of lenses. No more on and off with multiple pairs of glasses. No more peering over your glasses like your third grade teacher.

You will sometimes hear horror stories about people who cannot adapt to PALs, but this is not the majority, and not all PALs are the same. With these lenses, there is a gradual change from your distance prescription to your reading prescription as you move further down the lens. Hence, the lens “progressively” changes from one power to another, without any visible lines in the lenses. That gradual change in PALs allows you to get more of an intermediate range that is missing with a traditional lined bifocal. There is a seamless, more natural transition when using these lenses and they can also be made as sunglasses.

It is important to understand that there is an adaptation period to progressive lenses. You will find that even going up and down stairs or curbs will take some time to adjust. Typically, we advise patients to allow one to two weeks to truly adapt to these lenses. Learning to move your eyes within the lens and not your head takes time. The type of progressive lens also makes a difference. Some allow for wider areas of usable distance and near vision, while others are more task-oriented and target particular ranges, such as computer or occupational progressives.

Digital Progressive Lenses (PAL): For patients with more targeted needs or a history of trouble adapting to PALs, the digital PAL may be a great option. These are customizable lenses that help to optimize your vision. Digital technology started coming to the forefront in the 1980s and is now considered “freeform.” With these lenses they utilize both the front and the back of the lenses to customize them for your prescription. This means that personalized lenses will have your exact measurements based on where the frames sit on you. Standard lenses will have generalized measurements instead. Using a digital lens can mean the difference between a digital television screen and a 4K one. Freeform progressive lenses are like going from a box TV to a flat screen.

Digitally finished lenses are computer-engineered lenses that ensure the most precise prescription, taking into account face shape, the position of the frame on your face, and how your eyes are centered within the lenses. As a result, they offer a wider, more usable corridor of clear vision in comparison to more standard PALs. Also, a huge benefit of these lenses is that you often gain more clarity in the intermediate/computer zone.

Occupational or Computer Progressive Lenses (PAL): For people who spend most of their day at the desk, this type of lens can be very useful. These can be made as digital or standard lenses. With a standard PAL, as the reading power increases, the available space for your intermediate/computer zone decreases. So, if you are spending a lot of time in that zone, then you could benefit from a separate pair of PALs specifically for that task. As the saying goes, trying to use one pair of glasses for everything would be like expecting your stilettos to work for running a marathon.

The computer PALs use the top portion of the lens as your intermediate instead of the distance, and the bottom still has increased magnification for reading. This lens gives you wider, more usable zones providing better clarity when going from the computer to a document or your phone. For these lenses, we also recommend blue-blocking filters and anti-reflective coatings to help reduce additional glare and minimize blue light that has been shown to cause eye-strain and fatigue.

Tips for Making PALs Work for You

While we feel that progressives can be wonderful tools in enhancing your visual ability, we realize that they are not for everyone. We are all very different, and not everyone can adapt. We will cover a few tips to make adapting to PALs easier. The price point on progressive lenses can also often be a determining factor; however, we also have to remember that this one pair of lenses can often eliminate the need for multiple glasses.

Fitting a PAL requires exact measurements, which is why we highly discourage online ordering for these types of lenses. In order for this to work like it should, the alignment of your pupils and the lenses’ optical centers must correlate. You also want a proper size and positioned frame that truly cannot be accomplished without the assistance of an optician to take the appropriate measurements.

If you are new to PALs, let’s discuss a few secrets to help you through this process:

– Always point your nose at what you are looking;
– Do not look through the sides of the lenses, as PALs will have peripheral distortion – you must physically turn your head;
– Wear them as much as possible without resorting back to your old pair;
– Lower your eyes when reading instead of your head.

Here’s a tip: Try watching TV while keeping a book or an iPad on your lap. Look down at your device or book during the commercial breaks to help train your brain to figure out how to use progressives faster.

As technology continuously improves, so does the availability and accessibility to premium lenses. So, if you have tried them in the past without success or have been too terrified to even give them a shot, we hope this article provides you with a little clarity and a lot more optimism about all these lenses have to offer. Here’s to no more carrying five pairs of glasses in your bag!

Dr. Kimberly Douglas

Kimberly Douglas, OD, FAAO is an associate doctor with McPherson Family Eye Care.