Bifocals Or Progressives: Which Is Right For You?

Published on 01/04/2023
bifocals or progressives which is right for you

Patients' eyes and vision needs, evolve and change over time. According to the Vision Council, roughly 75% of adults use some type of vision correction, and nearly 40% of those use two or more different types of glasses. Many of that 40% are using bifocals or progressives, both of which are designed to minimize the number of times you need to remove or switch glasses to see up close or far away. 

Deciding Between Bifocals Or Progressives? Here Are Things To Think About

A single prescription lens doesn’t serve people who are both near and farsighted. So, instead, they have options:

  • Use one prescription for long-distance vision, removing glasses when you’re reading or working on a computer (this works okay until you approach 50, at which point you’ll probably need reading glasses)
  • Wear contacts and use reading glasses or mid-range prescriptions for reading/computer work
  • Find glasses that accommodate all of your vision needs in one pair (typically, this becomes a bifocals vs progressives dilemma)

The Difference Between Bifocals And Progressive Lenses

As technology improved, so did our ability to create eyeglass lenses that had different prescription strengths in the same lens. The first evolution of this was bifocals. 

Bifocal and trifocal lenses

In a bifocal lens, the upper portion and sides of each lens have the distance vision prescription, and a smaller window towards the bottom of the lens, in the location your eyes move when looking down to read, was engineered to the magnification level required for short distance reading. From there, trifocals were invented, largely to meet the needs of those spending time on computers, especially as computer technology increasingly integrated into daily life through the 1980s and 1990s. 

The issues most patients have with bifocals and trifocals are twofold. First, you can’t see well if you’re looking through a section of the lens that isn’t the right one for the object you’re trying to see. This can make people feel dizzy, nauseous, or woozy - as if you’re trying on someone else’s glasses. Along with that, the lenses may alter depth perception.

The good news is that the brain quickly adapts to the separate lenses and their proportions within the glass frame. So, most patients become adept at moving from lens to lens without issues and do so automatically. Finally, many patients don’t like that the transitions between each bifocal or trifocal lens are visible. 

Progressive lenses

In 1959, a French engineer, Bernard Maitenaz, invented the first phase of progressive lenses. The idea was to create a lens sophisticated enough to contain multiple prescriptions in a single lens but without the obvious divisions visible in multi-focal lenses.

It took about 40 years for the design to become popular in the U.S. market. Some people love them, while others can’t stand them. Progressive lenses are not for everyone, so patients have to weigh the pros and cons. Prescription glasses aren’t refundable or returnable unless there are manufacturer defects.

NOTE: Don’t forget that you may not need glasses at all if you qualify for LASIK or other types of vision correction surgery. Ask your optometrist if surgery may be a better option. In that case, you may only need reading glasses for short-distance vision.

Bifocal Lenses Or Progressives? Which Is Best?

Over the years, we see a pattern of which patients prefer bifocals vs those who prefer progressives. Here are questions to review with your optometrist at your next appointment.

Are you willing to bear with the adjustment period needed for progressives? 

The brain takes longer to adjust to progressives because you move your eyes differently. If you’re wearing regular glasses or multifocal lenses, you don’t have to move your head to move your eyes and orient them towards the area of the lens that works best for the distance. It’s different with progressives. 

Progressive lenses need you to move your head and your eyes together. In the meantime, you may experience some of the things we mentioned above, such as dizziness, woozy feelings, slight nausea, or altered depth perception. Most patients adjust to the new way of seeing things within a week or two. However, others require longer. Those who already wear bi/trifocals get frustrated more often, so keep that in mind.

How long have you worn bi/trifocals?

If you’ve worn bi/trifocals for years or decades, and they don’t bother you, there’s really no reason to switch. That’s especially the case if you only have two separate prescriptions for near/far and don’t need the mid-range lens for your daily routine.

Where do you work? Would bifocals or progressives be best?

By and large, those who work indoors at a desk, a computer, or with the public tend to adjust fastest and appreciate progressives more than those who work outdoors, traverse different terrains during the day, or work with their hands and tools. However, until you fully adjust to them, progressives can make it tricky if your job puts you on ladders, stairs, or walking on more treacherous surfaces while trying to also look ahead in the distance.

Do you require precision vision for much of your day?

Similarly, those who require precision vision will almost always prefer using a specific lens for their work, even if that means bifocals, over progressives. 

How much of your day is spent on a screen?

We touched on this in the office vs. labor-type jobs, but those who work on computers typically prefer progressives once they need more support at close or mid-distance ranges. Once they adjust, our computer-working patients feel progressives provide the most seamless and full-coverage vision support.

You Don’t Have To Choose Between Bifocals Or Progressives

The good news is this doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. Many of our patients get both and use the pair of glasses that work best in a particular setting. For example, many of our clients who work in construction stick to their bifocals in the field but wear progressives out in public or at home. 

Schedule an appointment with Eye To Eye Family Vision Care to learn more about whether bifocal or progressive eyeglasses are right for you.