Which is better: Progressive or Bifocal lenses?

This is a question that comes up quite often and a topic that we love covering on our blogs - is there a preferred option between progressive or bifocal lenses? We’re here to give you the right knowledge that will help you make an informed decision. With that said, let’s take a look at progressive vs bifocal lenses.

Progressive lenses
Progressive lenses

Who needs to wear progressive or bifocal glasses?

Both of these lens styles are typically worn by people with presbyopia (which literally means ‘ageing eye’). Presbyopia is the loss of near visual function we all experience as we get older. As we get older, the soft, flexible, elastic lens inside the eye becomes more and more hard, rigid and inflexible. Eventually, the muscles of focus can no longer change the shape of the lens inside the eye as we need them to when we do near work.

Presbyopia affects nearsighted and farsighted patients, along with patients who have astigmatism. All of these conditions are corrected with a “single vision” lens. Patients with any of these conditions will eventually experience presbyopia just like patients without these conditions. We all just need to live long enough and presbyopia will come. When it does, we can get a second pair of single vision glasses for our near vision, or we can trade our single vision lenses for bifocal or progressive lenses.

In Bifocal and progressive glasses, there are two prescriptions in one set of lenses. Bifocal and progressive lenses both allow patients with presbyopia to see distant objects (like they would with single vision distance lenses) and near objects (like they would with single vision near lenses), all in one pair of glasses.

What’s the difference between progressive vs bifocal lenses?

Bifocal lenses have a noticeable line between the two prescriptions of the lens. You’ll typically find this dividing demarcation in the bottom half of the lens, slightly closer to the nose. This is because our eyes turn down and inward when we perform near vision tasks like reading, sewing and cell phone work. With bifocals, you shift your focus to the bottom of the lens for nearby objects and then gaze up for farther objects. Once your eyes are in the bottom segment of the lens, you will have a wider, broader near viewing zone in your bifocal lenses than you will in your progressive lenses.

With progressive lenses, there are no visible lines between the different prescriptions. Some progressive lens advantages include:

  • Having an intermediate area for middle distances such as a computer screen
  • The lens is smooth with no lines giving better cosmetic appeal
  • Your vision focus changes smoothly
  • Eliminates the “image jump”

The question remains - what is better: progressive or bifocal lenses?

Most patients associate bifocals with age so nobody really wants lines on their glasses. In 25 years of practice as an optometrist, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard patients say, “I don’t want those lines on my glasses, they make me look older”.

Thankfully, progressive lenses have become much easier to wear than they were 25 years ago. Back then, roughly 20% to 25% of patients could not “get used to” their progressive lenses, and switched to bifocals. Today that number is far lower. There are probably less than 2% to 5% of patients who wear bifocals with lines.

Around 2008 or 2009, there was a huge leap forward in progressive lens technology that makes them much easier to use and to get used to. You can read about these changes in progressive lens design and manufacturing here. The end result of these technological changes is that no one who wants progressive lenses has to give up and get bifocals with lines on their glasses.

It is true that the viewing zone for reading is slightly more narrow in progressive lenses than in a bifocal lens, but most of us can adapt to that difference simply by moving our heads slightly. For this reason, the one time I will recommend bifocals over progressive lenses is for patients with neck mobility issues that will not allow them to move their head for normal use of a progressive lens.

For these patients, it is a fact that it’s easier to move the eyes into and out of the reading segment of a bifocal lens. If you know you need that, please tell me at our next eye exam. Otherwise, rest assured that you can be successful with progressive lenses that are made accurately and precisely for your prescription.

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