Progressive lenses – small masterpieces

Glasses fitted with progressive lenses offer the ideal vision solution for those who need to see clearly at multiple distances.

Progressive lenses really are the small wonders of the optical world. No matter what your prescription or visual needs, it’ll help you to see clearly and comfortably at virtually any distance. It’s easy to get used to, and unlike bifocals, there are no unsightly lines on the lenses.

What are progressive lenses?

Progressive or varifocal lenses are clear, unlined lenses with multiple magnifying powers across the lens surface. It corrects both far- and nearsightedness, letting the user enjoy perfect vision every step of the way, even in the transition ranges (the distances in-between).

Looking at trifocals and bifocals vs progressives, the former options have visible lines and are limited to defined focusing areas, whereas progressives appear completely seamless, and also allow for a seamless visual progression between the different focal points across the lens. Basically what it comes down to, is that you’ll be able to see at all distances with one pair of glasses.

Despite its sophisticated design features, progressive lenses look like any other clear  lenses. They can also be customised to fit almost any shape and size of frame.
Despite its sophisticated design features, progressive lenses look like any other clear lenses. They can also be customised to fit almost any shape and size of frame.

Who are progressive lenses for?

Most people of 45 and older will benefit from progressive glasses. It’s at this life stage that age-related farsightedness or presbyopia can start to set in.

When we are young, the eye’s natural lens has the ability to change its shape and focus on different things. This is called accommodation. Due to the aging process, this lens starts to lose its flexibility, and therefore the ability to accommodate especially at near distances. Presbyopia symptoms include difficulty with focusing on objects at close-up distances. Presbyopia treatment normally comes in the form of corrective spectacle or contact lenses.

Progressive lenses are actually designed to optimise vision at various distances. In fact, progressives are ideal for anyone who struggles with nearby focussing, independent of their distance vision needs (these needs can include myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism).

On top of that, high-quality progressives are also completely customisable. Your prescription can be individualised according to your lifestyle, your frame, the anatomy of your face and age-related visual needs. Whether you need progressive glasses all day long, for driving or you plan to wear them on the sports field, speak to your eye care practitioner about this comprehensive vision solution.

Quality levels of progressive lenses

Lenses are kind of like clothing. A perfectly designed dress or suit made according to someone’s precise body measurements will fit better compared to the standard size bought in a store. In general, the greater the level of lens customisation, the better the lens will adapt to your individual vision needs.

There are ranges of varifocals, varying mainly in the level of customisation. Of course, the more individualised the lens, the higher the cost may be. Discuss the best option for your budget with your practitioner.

Standard progressive lens: Designed for standard usage for a theoretical standard user. If the wearer’s vision requirements does not fit within this “standard” design, it can lead to smaller fields of clear view. As a result, users may have to put up with reduced vision comfort and it takes them a long time to get used to their glasses.

Customised progressive lens: These progressive lenses are customised to the wearer and choice of frame, so it offers the maximum possible field of vision. They will be manufactured based on unique visual needs determined by an eye care practitioner during a thorough consultation.

Modern visual needs

Our visual needs have drastically evolved over the years. 20 Years ago, our eyes mainly had to adjust to print media such as books and newspapers. With the dawn of the digital age, this evolved into a combination of print and digital media at work and home over the years. Today we have to consume information on small, digital devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops and we often do this while we’re on the move! This always-connected lifestyle places an increased visual demand on our eyes, and our visual behaviour is completely different from what it used to be.

Because we have to adjust our gaze so quickly and frequently in different distances and directions, high quality progressives can offer an ideal solution to our modern-day visual behaviour. Ask your eye care practitioner about progressives that are specifically designed to suit both your age-related vision requirements, as well as your digitally focused lifestyle. Such a prescription lens will enable you to comfortably switch your gaze between your digital devices and the world around you. It also eliminates multiple pairs of glasses, as it can incorporate all your needs into a single, smart lens.

Our visual needs have drastically evolved over the years.
Our visual needs have drastically evolved over the years.

Getting used to your varifocal lenses

Whether you’ve worn them before, or you have a brand new progressive lens prescription, it can take some getting used to. That’s no reason to avoid varifocals – with the right measurements and a little bit of training, you’ll get comfortable with your new glasses in no time. Here’s what you need to do to get the most out of your varifocals:

  1. Get a professional eye test: Progressive lenses can only function properly with precise vision testing. Your eye care practitioner will individually measure both eyes, and test your binocular vision to determine the necessary lens power. For more sophisticated lenses, additional measurements may be needed. 
  2. Give a good breakdown of your visual needs: Your practitioner will ask you a series of questions to determine your daily visual behaviour. Don’t hesitate to elaborate as much as possible, adding details you think they may have missed. Tell them how many hours you spend working at a computer, and whether you read books on your smartphone while you’re on the train. Anything can be relevant in getting you the ideal prescription and pair of glasses.
  3. Centration: Each pair of prescription spectacle lenses have to be adjusted by your eye care practitioner to the size and shape of the chosen frame, the position of your eyes behind the lenses and sometimes the position of the frame on your nose and ears. If this isn’t done correctly, a lot of valuable visual acuity can be lost. For progressive lenses all three vision zones (near, intermediate, far) have to be optimally adjusted. Ideally, you should be able to read on your mobile phone through the near zone, focus on a computer screen through the intermediate zone and see far away objects looking through the distance zone. When trying on your new lenses, ask your practitioner to take you through this process and explain to you how to use them if this doesn’t come spontaneously to you. 
  4. Wear them immediately: The sooner you try your new glasses, the sooner your eyes will adjust. If you feel uncomfortable at first, wear them in familiar places where you feel safe, such as your home or work. As you gradually get used to it, try them out in public spaces too.
  5. Give yourself time: Although most people get used to modern progressive lenses very easily, you should give yourself time to adjust. Make a follow-up appointment with your eye care practitioner if it takes any longer than 2-3 weeks.

Progressive lenses: Frequently asked questions

How do progressive lenses work?

They allow you to see at all distances without any visibly defined areas (such as with bifocals or trifocals). Starting at the top, a progressive lens incorporates your furthest distance prescription, and increases in strength all the way down to the bottom. This means that as you move your focus through the different visual zones, you will be able to see clearly, from near to far and the other way around.

Why is there a so called "undefined area of vision" in progressive lenses?

The top portion of the lens provides long distance vision and the small section between the two (the transition or progression area) ensures perfect vision at all progressive distances (in between distances). As a result of the geometry and optics of such a lens there are blurry areas – often in the lower edges – and the severity of this will differ depending on the quality of the progressive addition lens design and the level of customisation.

How much do varifocals cost?

The progressive lens price will depend on various factors, including the level of customisation. In general, varifocals are more expensive than standard single vision lenses, however, some may argue that it eliminates the need for more than one pair of glasses, making it a wiser investment for those who need multiple lens strengths.

Can I wear varifocals for driving a car and working at a computer screen?

It’s usually possible to wear your varifocals and do some driving, and keep them on later when you’re typing away at the office – as long as your prescription is up to date. However, you have to discuss how you plan to use your glasses with your eye care practitioner during a consultation to ensure that your glasses meet your visual needs.

Are progressive lenses also available as sunglasses?

Yes. They can be customised as sunglasses, and they are also available in photochromic and adaptive lens options that gradually change from clear to dark or dark to darker when exposed to bright light. This way, you can keep your everyday glasses on when you go outdoors.

Can I wear my progressive prescription when I play sports?

Yes, but be aware that not all lens manufacturers produce progressive lenses suited to the wrapped frames that most people prefer for sports. When some lenses are fitted to wrapped frames, it can result in visual aberrations. Specialised sports lenses minimise these aberrations, and they are available with progressive prescriptions. Speak to your eye care practitioner for more information.

How long can I wear my varifocals?

Most eye care practitioners recommend going for an eye test once every two years (depending on your medical history and health). Your practitioner will test your eyes to see if your prescription can stay the same or whether it needs to be reviewed.

Is it difficult to adjust to progressive glasses?

The more customised the prescription, the easier it should be to adjust to your new lenses. Keep in mind that it may take some time to get used to, but with modern progressive spectacles the adjustment period tends to be a lot shorter.

My varifocals are uncomfortable and I just can’t seem to get used to them. What should I do?

As mentioned above, give it 2-3 weeks before going back to your eye care practitioner for a follow-up visit.

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