Most people over the age of 45 begin to need glasses to read small print—even those who still have excellent distance vision. This condition is called presbyopia, a Greek word that literally means "old vision."

The changes are very gradual, and you won't notice the loss until one day you find yourself squinting at a newspaper that’s held at arm's length and still appears to be blurred, or you have trouble reading anything in a dimly lit room. Threading a needle becomes a marathon task. By the time people reach their 50s and 60s, most of them will need some type of assistance with their vision.

Symptoms of Presbyopia

  • Blurred vision at normal reading distances
  • Eyestrain due to prolonged or close work
  • Headache, eye fatigue, stinging, burning, or gritty sensation in the eyes after doing close work

What Causes Presbyopia?

Presbyopia is a condition that occurs when the lens of the eye becomes less flexible and thus less able to change shape and focus on close objects, especially in dim light or when a person is tired. Aging is also a factor of presbyopia.

What If You Do Nothing?

Presbyopia will gradually get worse as you age, and you will find that it’s more difficult to read small print unless you begin using corrective lenses.

Home Remedies for Presbyopia

  • Get some drugstore reading glasses. These can cost $100 or more if prescribed by a specialist; yet over-the-counter glasses, which cost around $20 or less, may be just as effective. These glasses must meet the requirements of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including passing impact resistance tests. There’s an important caution, however: over-the-counter reading glasses won’t correct nearsightedness, astigmatism, or other refractive defects, and buying a pair of them is no substitute for an eye exam. When you pick out nonprescription reading glasses, be sure you have the time to try on several pairs and to read the test cards provided. You might also carry along a book or newspaper for testing. Glasses will usually be marked with a number ranging from 1.00 to 4.00, indicating the magnifying power. (Low magnification would be 1.25 or 1.50; high would be 3.00 and above.) Start at the low end and work your way up, holding the card at a comfortable reading distance.
  • Increase the amount of light—especially for reading and other close-up activities. Go from 60- to 100-watt bulbs whenever possible.


There is no way to prevent presbyopia.

Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor

Contact your eye doctor when the signs of presbyopia begin to interfere with daily activities. Many eye specialists advise glaucoma testing at age 40 or 50—when signs of presbyopia often start to appear. If your vision is changing rapidly, consult an optometrist or ophthalmologist to make sure that magnifying glasses for reading are all you need.

What Your Doctor Will Do

You will be given an eye examination. After you explain to your eye doctor all the various tasks you do on and off the job that require clear vision, the doctor will use the information to help determine and fit the corrective lenses that will be best for you. (Eye surgery for correcting focusing problems—such as PRK and LASIK, two techniques that utilize laser beams to reshape parts of the cornea—cannot be used to correct or halt presbyopia. If you have presbyopia, you will still need glasses for reading even if you have surgery for near-sightedness, far-sightedness, or astigmatism.)

Depending on your existing vision problems, you may need bifocals or trifocals—glasses with two or three kinds of vision correction, as the name implies. A progressive-lens type of bifocal—which is manufactured to provide a gradual change in correction from top to bottom—is another option. Progressive lenses are more expensive than conventional bifocals and have a smaller field for reading. Progressives are also harder to prescribe and fit than regular bifocals, so buy them from someone who is experienced in fitting them.

If you wear contact lenses, you can consider bifocal contact lenses, though these won’t work for everyone. Another choice is monovision—wearing a near-vision contact lens in one eye and a distance-vision one in the other, so that you see with one eye at a time. If you decide to investigate either of these options, discuss your needs with an experienced professional. Remember, too, that you may need new lenses every 12 to 18 months for a time to correct for worsening presbyopia.


The Complete Home Wellness Handbook

John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 09 Nov 2011

Last Modified: 24 Feb 2015