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January 2004 Issue

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How glasses can cause reading problems

By Gary K. Probst, Prince George's Community College

Errors in the prescription or lens is frequently overlooked When determining why someone does not like to read or study, the importance of having proper glasses or needing glasses is overlooked.

Having worn glasses all of my life, I know from first hand experience the important of having glasses that properly correct your vision.

Obtaining the correct prescription for the glasses' lens requires the services of an optometrist or ophthalmologist to prescribe the correct lens. To have the lens placed properly in their frames requires the services of an optician. The person who prescribes the lens or the person who fits the lens into the frames can make errors causing vision problems. A person who has difficulty reading will not find reading and studying enjoyable and tend to avoid or limit these activities.

Most people accept new glasses as correcting their vision

What most people, especially a student, do is to assume new glasses will correct his or her vision. While most of the time the lens are correctly prescribed and correctly fitted into the frames, there are times when the prescription or lenses are not correct. Several times in my life as well as my colleagues the doctor has given the wrong prescription or the lens were fitted incorrectly. Doctors are very defensive when you return to request new a new prescription. 

Recently a colleague told me her optometrist prescribed glasses caused her to have poorer vision. No matter how hard she tried he would not change the prescription. She had to go to another optometrist to obtain a correct prescription and purchase new glasses. Most places that sell glasses, if the doctor makes an error, will make new lens at no charge.

What must you discuss with the eye doctor and the optician when purchasing new glasses? It is very important to have a good optician fit the glasses properly into the frames. The following factors that must be taken into consideration by the optician because of their affect on a person's ability to read:

1. Lens quality

2. Proper optical centers

3. Lens size differences

4. Type of glass or plastic chosen

5. Grinding quality

6. Frame weight and size

When you return to the doctor who prescribed the lens, he or she will immediately check the new glasses for these factors before giving another eye exam.

Progressive lens will cause reading problems

For aesthetic reasons people who need bifocal lens sometimes select progressive lens for his or her glasses. Progressive lens do not have a line showing the bifocal that is inserted into the lens. Progressive lens appear like regular glasses. The Seiko company's website explains how regular progressive lens causes reading problems.


The problem with progressive lens is the bifocal area used for reading is only 11cm. This area is too small to permit one to see completely across a line of print or a computer screen. In order to read one has to become a head mover. In other words, it is necessary to move ones head across the line of print while reading instead of moving ones eyes. This can be seen when you watch a person with progressive glasses read. Opticians will tell you it is necessary to move your head across a line of print when reading with progressive lens. The bifocal lens or reading lens in regular glasses is either 28cm or 35cm. This permits one to move his or her eyes across the line of print without moving ones head.

With computer monitors becoming larger, I would recommend a 35cm bifocal lens.


1. Ask a student who has trouble reading if he or she recently had an eye examination and/or have glasses over one year old.

2. After getting new glasses if it is found they are not as good as the old ones, immediately have a new eye examination.

3. Go to an established eye clinic to have an eye examination. A department store or an optician in a single practice that sells glasses is not an eye clinic. An eye clinic will have both an optometrist and an ophthalmologist on the staff. They will be glad to reexamine and change the lens for no charge.

4. Students who wear progressive lens should be told they must get a pair of reading glasses. Discount and most optical stores sell these glasses for much less than one hundred dollars. Many discount optical stores sell two pairs of glasses for $100. You can get one pair for reading and the other pair for driving or prescription sunglasses.

5. Screen students who come to your learning center to determine if they have a vision problem. An inexpensive cards ($6) can be purchased form http://www.richmondproducts.com Click on Acuity Charts for distance and Near Point . The Wormington Near Point Chart can be used when testing someone to determine why he or she is having a reading/learning problem. If a student is found to have a problem, he or she should be told to have their eyes examined.

6. The following are symptoms of visual programs that need to be corrected:

a. Watch a person reading for head moving, finger pointing to keep ones place and closing one eye to read. b. Ask the student if he or she has headaches, dizziness, nausea, sits close to the TV or needs to sit in the front row to see the blackboard.

c. If you cannot read clearly the price of the stocks on the financial pages of a newspaper, it is time to get new glasses.

(This is the test I use to tell when I need new lens.)

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