Why you might need reading glasses as you get older


3 minutes

12 August 2021

A mature man wearing glasses and reading on a tablet

If you’re over 40, it’s normal to start having a bit of trouble reading things up close. An OPSM optometrist explains why – and what you can do.

Do you find yourself extending your arm out to read your phone, or struggling to read the restaurant menu in dim lighting?

If you’re over 40, this is likely to be a sign of presbyopia – a gradual reduction of your eyes’ ability to focus on objects up close as you get older.1

What exactly is presbyopia? And what can you do about it? OPSM optometrist Elizabeth Kodari explains a few things you need to know.

What is presbyopia?

Presbyopia is a natural part of ageing, and there is no known way to prevent it, Kodari says.1

“With time, the muscles that surround the natural lens of your eye become less flexible and elastic,” she says.

“This stiffening means your eyes are no longer able to change shape as easily and focus on objects up close.”

Signs of presbyopia

People often begin to notice these vision changes in their 40s, and it usually continues to worsen until around the age of 65.1

A few signs Kodari says you might notice include:

  • Blurry vision up close
  • Eye strain after prolonged close work
  • Holding reading material further away
  • Difficulty reading in low light
  • Needing to increase font size on your digital devices
  • Headaches and tiredness from the strain of focusing your eyes

“If you notice any of these signs, it’s a good idea to book in an eye check with an optometrist,” Kodari says.

How glasses and contacts can help

The good news is presbyopia can usually be easily corrected with glasses or contact lenses.1

“By focusing light before it reaches the lens of the eye, glasses can help us see clearly up close,” Kodari explains.

“Besides simple reading glasses, there are different type of lenses such as multifocal and occupational lenses to help correct for a range of distances.

“Contact lenses can also help correct presbyopia with multifocal and monovision lens options. Your optometrist will be able to advise which option is best for you.”

Can you just get over-the-counter reading glasses?

You will find cheap pairs of ready-made reading glasses available at chemists, service stations and online. These are designed to magnify things in front of you, and may be a suitable option for some people.2

However, Kodari says it’s better if you can see an optometrist to make sure you have the correct prescription and fit for your individual needs.

“If your reading glasses are too strong, this may cause headaches and eye strain,” she says.

“Other factors such as the position of the eyes, distance between our pupils and the fit of the frames can all have an impact on your vision and eye comfort too.”

Seeing an optometrist also gives you the opportunity to check for signs of eye health problems, which is particularly important as you get older.3

Plus, if you have extras cover that includes optical, you can get benefits back on prescription glasses and contacts, helping you manage the costs.

Tips for healthy eyes and vision

So what else can you do to look after your eyes? Kodari shares a few tips:

  • Get an eye check every two years (or more frequently if recommended by your optometrist). Common ageing eye conditions such as glaucoma and macular degeneration often have no symptoms until they’re quite advanced, so regular eye screening is the best way to catch them early.4
  • Give your eyes a rest from screens. “When using digital devices, every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break from your screen and focus on an object far away to help your eyes relax and adjust focus,” Kodari suggests.5
  • Wear sunglasses. “It’s important to protect our eyes from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation (UV), which can increase our risk of developing eye conditions such as cataracts, pterygium, and skin cancers.”6
  • Eat a healthy diet. “A healthy, balanced diet rich in nutrients including omega-3s, lutein and vitamins A, C and E is great for your eye health,” Kodari says.”7
  • Know your family history. “Some eye conditions can be genetic. Let your optometrist know if you have a family history of any eye conditions.”8
Take a look at HBF optical cover

See clearly and look great. With HBF extras, you can get 100% back on prescription glasses and contacts, up to your annual limit.

Find out more

1Presbyopia – healthdirect (2019)
2Is it okay to buy glasses from the chemist or service station? – Good Vision for Life (Optometry Australia) (2021)
3What is an eye test? – Vision Initiative
4The ageing eye conditions you need to know about – Centre for Eye Research Australia (2020)
5Screen time and your eye health – OPSM
6Sun safety for your eyes – Centre for Eye Research Australia (2020)
7What’s cooking good looking – Good Vision for Life (Optometry Australia) (2020)
8Booking an eye test – Vision Initiative

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This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.