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Bifocals vs. Progressive vs. Single Vision Lenses: What’s the Difference?

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As we age, our ability to focus on objects and images close to us becomes worse. This is the effect of presbyopia: a condition that worsens as we grow into our 40’s. 

Lenses with multiple powers of magnification and multiple prescriptions can help mitigate the symptoms of presbyopia. Bifocal, trifocal, and multifocal lenses all vary slightly in their design, but hold in common their ability to treat refractive issues while also mitigating presbyopia.

At Okotoks Eyecare, we can determine if you are currently being affected by presbyopia through a comprehensive eye exam, and will be able to prescribe you unique eyeglasses or contact lenses to treat your condition. You can book an appointment with one of our eye doctors to take the first step in your treatment process.

What is Presbyopia? 

Presbyopia is a condition that describes the gradual loss of your eyes’ ability to see nearby objects clearly. This condition usually starts to appear in people once they reach their early to mid-40s, and can continue to worsen until the age of 65

As you age, presbyopia is caused by the hardening of the lens of your eye. Once your lens becomes less flexible, it will have difficulty changing its form to focus on images and objects that are near to you.

Presbyopia can be detected through a comprehensive eye exam, and your eye doctor can recommend different treatment options depending on your condition’s severity; you may be able to mitigate the effects of presbyopia by wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses, but this condition can also be treated with certain types of eye surgery.

What Are Single Vision Lenses?

A single vision lens is a lens with one power of magnification. This type of lens can help effectively correct myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism. Single vision lenses are usually the standard type of lens used in prescription glasses and contact lenses — they are also quite versatile and can serve to correct many different vision problems.

Digital lenses are a type of single vision lens that enhances your overall level of vision. Digital lenses optimize your vision by eliminating distortion near the peripherals of your field of view and providing a greater level of clarity when looking through them. This type of lens will end up being more expensive than standard single vision lenses. 

If you are suffering from presbyopia as well as hyperopia, single vision glasses may not be an effective solution to your conditions. A lens with multiple powers of magnification will allow you to mitigate hyperopia while still addressing the ability to focus on objects nearer to you.

How Bifocal Lenses Work

Bifocal lenses are lenses with two separate powers of magnification. Typically, a bifocal lens is segmented by a visible transition line between the two powers of magnification — the bottom segment will have a prescription that lets you see objects near to you more clearly, and the top will allow you to focus on objects that are further away.

Along with trifocal, multifocal, and progressive lenses, bifocal lenses can help mitigate the effects of presbyopia through the use of multiple magnification powers.

Trifocal and Multifocal Lenses

These lenses are similar to bifocals but have segments with different powers of magnification. A trifocal lens has three segments separated by a transition line: the bottom will make objects near to you more clearly, the middle segment will put the intermediate distance into focus, and the top segment will allow you to see objects in the distance. Multifocal lenses denote any lens with 3 or more magnification powers.

Getting Seamless Transitions With Progressive Lenses

Progressive lenses are a type of multifocal lens that does not have visible transition lines; rather, a progressive lens makes the transition between magnification powers seamless and unobtrusive to your vision. 

Pros of Progressive Lenses

Some benefits of progressive lenses include:

  • With seamless transitions, progressive lenses can provide a smooth image over multiple distances with no interruptions.
  • Progressive have reduced visual distortions and image jumping when looking through them compared to bifocal or trifocal lenses. 
  • Progressive lenses retain a similar appearance to single vision lenses and are not as blocky or thick as bifocal and trifocal lenses.

Cons of Progressive Lenses

Some downsides to progressive lenses are:

  • They can take some time to fully adjust to. 
  • Progressive lenses can cause some distortion near the periphery of your vision — this can sometimes make you feel off-balance or give you a headache. Over time, you will need to adjust to the feeling of looking through progressive lenses.
  • This type of lens costs more than single vision, bifocal, and trifocal lenses. This is due to the increased difficulty and time of manufacturing progressive lenses.

Which Type of Lens is Right for Me? 

What type of lenses will benefit you the most depends on your age, current level of visual acuity, and your general eye health. If you are currently dealing with refractive issues like myopia or hyperopia and are over the age of 40, it may be most beneficial for you to get a prescription for bifocal, trifocal, multifocal, or progressive lenses. Lenses with multiple magnification powers can address both presbyopia and refractive issues at the same time.

If you need multiple magnification powers for your lenses, you will also need to decide if you want visible or seamless transition lines. The appearance of the lenses is important as well: If you want lenses with multiple magnification levels that look similar to single vision lenses, progressive lenses will be the best fit for you.

If you are under the age of 40 and are not currently dealing with the effects of presbyopia, single vision lenses will typically be sufficient in correcting other visual issues like myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism.

Okotoks Eyecare can help you choose the perfect lenses and frames for your current situation — book an appointment with us for a comprehensive eye exam to start the process of finding the right lenses for you.

Written by Dr. Asim Prasad

Dr. Asim Prasad is a native Calgarian who earned his Bachelor’s of Science degree in Vision Science and Doctor of Optometry degree from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 2008. Before becoming an optometrist, Dr. Prasad earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of Alberta. After working in the environmental science industry for a short time, Dr. Prasad decided to pursue his true passion: optometry.
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