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What are Progressive Lenses?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Progressive lenses are lenses used to correct vision which offer a gradation across the lens which provides several degrees of magnification. These lenses are classically prescribed to older adults who have presbyopia. Historically, older adults required bifocal or even trifocal lenses for vision correction. These lenses could be uncomfortable to wear, not least because the distinctly different zones of magnification caused image jumps. With progressive lenses, there are no lines and no clearly demarcated zones, making for much smoother vision.

Progressive lenses are available in the form of both glasses and contacts. In both cases, the area of lightest magnification is at the top of the lens, with the magnification becoming stronger at the bottom of the lens. The one drawback is that the sides of the lenses tend to be somewhat distorted, which can be disconcerting when looking out the corner of the eye.

Adjusting to progressive lenses can take some time, whether one is switching from single lenses or a pair of bifocal lenses. Some people feel dizzy, nauseous, or disoriented for the first few days while they settle in. Some optometrists recommend wearing new lenses for only a few hours at a time at first, allowing patients to get used to the feel of the new lenses gradually. Wearers of progressive lenses also need to learn about how to exploit the lenses, finding the sweet spots in various areas of the lens which provide the crispest vision for different tasks.

Fit is critical with progressive lenses. While regular lenses can seem slightly disorienting or annoying if they don't fit well or are the wrong size, progressive lenses can be largely useless if they are not well fitted. When a new pair of progressive lenses arrives, the optometrist should take the time to confirm that they fit properly, and that the wearer feels comfortable. It's also important to take fit measurements before the lenses are ordered, and in the case of glasses, to select appropriate frames which will fit the face well and accommodate lenses of an adequate size.

These lenses are also known as graduated lenses, PALs, no-line bifocals, or varifocal lenses. There are some alternatives to progressive lenses for people who prefer not to wear them. One option is to use several pairs of single lenses, with a pair of basic day to day glasses and a pair of reading glasses which can be changed as needed. Another option is to use traditional bifocal or trifocal lenses.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By andee — On Nov 29, 2011

I finally gave up on trying to get used to my progressive lenses. I can still read most fine print without reading glasses, so I went back to wearing my single vision lenses.

I have a small face, and when you get any kind of progressive lenses, the lenses have to be bigger. Most of them looked too big for my face.

Right now I have small single vision lenses, and when I need to read something I just look underneath my lenses to see it.

I do find myself putting my glasses on top of my head quite often when I want to read a book or magazine.

When I am sitting at the computer, I don't need any glasses. So far, it has worked better for me to use regular glasses, and readers once in awhile instead of the progressive lenses.

I know that someday that isn't going to work, and I am going to have to get used to them. If I had a hard time getting used to bifocal progressive lenses, what would trifocal progressive lenses be like?

Anyone have any pointers on this other than just giving it some time?

By bagley79 — On Nov 28, 2011

I am young enough that I never had to have the old bifocal style of lenses with the line across. The first pair of bifocals I bought were Varilux progressive lenses.

At first I was even kind of excited about them because I was so tired of constantly taking my other glasses on and off, up and down just to be able to see.

I needed them on to see far away, but needed something different to be able to read close up. It took me longer than I thought it would to adjust to them though.

Going up and down stairs was the hardest, and sometimes I still don't feel very steady. For the first few weeks I had headaches and would even feel dizzy if I moved my head too fast.

Once you get used to them, they are great. I can't imagine how much harder it would be to adjust to lenses with distinct lines in them. I think that would be even harder than the progressive lenses.

By popcorn — On Nov 28, 2011

@letshearit - I really like switching over from bifocals to progressive lenses because I found the viewing area to be a lot more natural. I didn't know it, but my bifocals were actually making me squint a bit. If you want to see with a wider field of vision I suggest making the switch.

I purchased Ovation progressive lenses and found that after the initial adjustment they were much better for me. I didn't experience any real discomfort, it just took a bit of adjustment to get used to the new way my glasses worked. I will admit though, there is an area of soft focus around the edges of the lens, so that can be a downside.

By letshearit — On Nov 27, 2011

Do you think it is a good idea to switch to progressive glasses lenses if you have been wearing bifocals for most of your life?

I am a bit of a traditionalist and feel like my bifocals work just fine, but my eye doctor is recommending I switch over. I am not sure if this is just a tactic to get me to try something more expensive or if I can see some real benefits from switching.

Right now I am worried that if I switch lenses it might give me headaches, and I don't really like the idea of getting sick just to be more fashionable. I am all for it though if they make my vision clearer.

By ysmina — On Nov 26, 2011

@turquoise-- From my experience, it can take up to 2 weeks to adjust to progressive lenses. I've renewed my progressive lenses several times and each time, it took a few days to get used to it.

It has also happened that the lenses I got were not very good quality and my eyes could not adjust to them. I did take those back and paid more money to get better quality lenses. I think when it comes to progressive lenses, you need to stick to higher end ones. Zeiss progressive lenses seem to be the best.

The store might have made a mistake with it too. I think you should take it back and tell them your concerns. They might be able to renew it for you without additional charges.

By turquoise — On Nov 25, 2011

I got my first pair of eyeglasses with progressive lenses last week. I haven't been able to adjust to them though. I feel like I always need to look at the same exact spot to be able to see anything. If I look left and right really quick, it's just fuzzy.

I know it takes some time to get used to them, but it's already been a week for me. What are the chances of adjusting to them after this? I'm thinking about taking them back. I had heard so much about progressives over regular lenses, but I'm disappointed.

By serenesurface — On Nov 25, 2011

My mom used to have the old kind of bifocals with a line in the middle of her glasses. She did not wear them for a long time because she felt dizzy and nauseous every time she looked up and down. The difference was just huge.

When progressive eyeglass lenses came out, we rushed to get them and it was a great decision. My mom has been using them for the past seven years now and she loves them. She never feels dizzy or nauseous. No one can tell that they are progressive either because there is no visible difference on the lenses.

I think that's important because wearing the old version was emotionally upsetting. My mom was feeling very aged when she had to wear those. She feels much better about herself with progressive lenses.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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