If you are over the age of 40 and/or have been having more difficulty reading small print, your optometrist may prescribe progressive lenses (or a type of no-line bifocal). Progressives allow you to have clear vision at far, intermediate (such as the distance between you and your computer screen), and near distances all in one pair of lenses without a visible line. However, there are hundreds of different progressive designs and it can be very difficult for the consumer to know what makes each lens different and which would best suit your needs.
Not All Progressive Lenses are Made Equally
Chances are you have seen a wide variance in pricing when shopping for a progressive lens. Some optical retailers advertise progressive lenses for as little as $200, while others state their lenses are upwards of $900. Why is there such a huge difference in progressive lens price?
Today, you can still find older traditional design progressives in the marketplace. These are produced from pre-made lenses taken out of stock. Your distance prescription is then ground into the back of the lens. In the front of the lens is a generic “add” power for near viewing that lays on top of your prescription. This is like having two different prescriptions laying on top of each other which causes distortion, glare, and visual strain. This also causes the lens to have a narrow area of clear vision for each distance; intermediate is particularly restricted. Many people describe a “swim” effect in these lenses and some people can never adapt to them. Newer technologies have led to higher quality optics customized to your prescription, visual needs, frame size and shape, and how the frame fits your face.
Just as companies such as Apple are always designing better, quicker and more advanced computer and cellular technology, so are lens manufacturers, as they are always trying to improve their products. Advanced progressive designs entail digitally crafting lenses that are 100% customized to all of the aforementioned parameters. Your distance prescription and your “add” are optimized into one as you go down the lens all on the same side of the lens which greatly improves the optical quality of the entire lens. Peripheral distortion is decreased by 40%, leading to wider and clearer zones of vision at all distances. The effect is like “high-definition” or “high-resolution” vision. This is especially helpful in low light situations.
Different lens materials and coatings can also affect the clarity of your vision. It is important to consult an expert to ensure you are getting the right combination of optical features for the clearest vision. When shopping around, make sure you are comparing apples to apples. As photographers know, just as there is a drastic difference in optical quality between the lens in a cheap disposable camera and that of a high-end Nikon or Canon camera, there are drastic differences in eyeglass lens quality.
Ask questions to ensure you know exactly what design of progressive you are getting as well as the other lens features and how it may affect your vision. If you are an individual who is very sensitive to small changes in your prescription, or variances in lenses, or who has a high prescription, then an older technology progressive will probably not be a good fit for you. A newer, more accurate and customized progressive will probably assist you in making day-to-day activities easier.
Newer Progressive Designs are Highly Customized and Must Be Fit With Care by an Optician
The newest progressive lens designs are 100% customized to your exact prescription and visual needs and to how your eye fits in the particular frame you have chosen. A fully customized lens will take into account the distance from your eyelids to the back of the lens, the wrap and tilt of the frame on your face, where exactly in the frame your eye sits, and your visual demands (how you use your eyes on a daily basis), among other potential parameters.
These measurements need to be taken by a trained optician to ensure accuracy. Incorrect or missing measurements prevents you from reaping the full potential of digital lenses. This type of new technology drastically reduces unwanted aberrations in the lens, eliminating a large amount of swim effect and widening the intermediate and near corridor so you have more usable vision. They are therefore, much easier to adapt to. Many people opt to get a separate pair of computer progressives as well, which provides an even wider area of intermediate clarity.
Once you’ve decided to go digital, you should also be aware that there are many different designs for digital progressives available and one type may be much more suitable than another type depending on your visual demands. Your optician should ask you about your job, hobbies, and general lifestyle in order to recommend the most beneficial design of digital progressive lenses for your needs.