With multifocal glasses, people are able to see clearly at various distances, including up close, faraway, and in between. These glasses are often compared to progressive lenses.
Bifocals & Trifocals vs. Multifocal Eyeglasses
Bifocal glasses accommodate two fields of vision, generally up close and far away. Trifocal glasses allow for three fields of vision. Multifocal glasses allow for clear vision at various focal points, including intermediate vision.
Multifocal eyeglasses are a specialized form of vision correction that can be used to help people with presbyopia and other vision problems achieve clear vision, especially as they get older.
Sometimes, multifocal glasses may be a catch-all term to describe bifocals or trifocals. However, when vision care specialists refer to multifocal lenses, they usually are talking about progressive lenses.
Presbyopia & Multifocal Eyewear
In most cases, the use of multifocal eyeglasses help people adjust to changes in their near vision, which take place as a person gets older. As noted, presbyopia often appears gradually after the age of 40, and it causes near vision to become blurred.
For instance, you may find it difficult to see a book up close, which will cause you to move it farther away. To diagnose this issue, you should see an eye doctor annually for a comprehensive eye exam after you turn 40.
As you age, the crystalline lenses in the eyes begin to lose more and more flexibility over time. This leads to changes in the shape of the cornea, which affects how light is transmitted to the retina and how images appear. If the lenses lose their flexibility and become more rigid, you’ll also find it more difficult to perform up-close tasks or read.
Bifocals & Trifocals
Multifocal glasses have built on the developments associated with bifocals and trifocals.
In 1784, Benjamin Franklin invented bifocal glasses. He glued two different lenses with different prescriptions together, so people could see both near and far.
Bifocal lenses are split into two prescriptions, one for distance vision and one for up-close tasks like reading. The end result is glasses that work well for both far and close viewing.
If you need a larger lens area for reading and computer work, bifocal lenses may be a good option for you. A negative of bifocal lenses is that they typically have visible lines or segments defining the areas (far and distant).
The principle of trifocal spectacles is similar to that of bifocals. As opposed to two focus points, this lens has three.
The upper portion is designed for faraway viewing, while the lower portion is used for up-close activities like reading. These lenses also have an intermediate vision area in the center. Computer work is a good use of this in-between space (about an arm’s length in distance).
Trifocals distribute light three ways, so you have a mid-range focal point (about 31 inches) and far and close-up vision points.
The lenses of bifocal or trifocal eyeglasses can be modified to suit the needs of people in specific professions or those who like certain hobbies. For example, activities like golf necessitate a player’s ability to simultaneously focus on many distances. Today’s multifocal lenses can help people with these needs experience better overall vision.
Again, progressive multifocal lenses allow the wearer to see up close, far away, or at an intermediate distance with only a single pair of glasses. Therefore, progressive lenses provide a seamless transition from far to intermediate to near, making them ideal for a large number of activities. The idea is that you can adjust your vision more naturally without switching eyeglasses.
You also don’t have to necessarily look through a set segment of your lenses. Multifocal lenses do not have the lines separating the prescriptions like bifocal glasses do. Because of this, the transition from looking from far to near is seamless and natural.
However, not every progressive multifocal lens is the same. It’s possible to find them in a wide range of looks and patterns. Since the edges of a progressive lens are more likely to be distorted due to the lens’s general design, it’s important to pick a lens with a large, clear mid-range and a sizable reading area. That way, you’ll experience the highest ease and clarity with a minimal need for adaptation.
Considerations for Multifocal Glasses
Consider these factors when assessing multifocal glasses:
Premium progressive multifocal eyewear has cutting-edge optical innovations that provide easy adaptation, solid vision, and good comfort. For anyone who has more than one refractive error, it is important to choose a quality brand that supports all facets of vision quality and health.
For success with progressive multifocal lenses, you’ll need precise measurements. Make sure the optical center of your new lenses is where your focus is. This will provide you with the best visual experience.
Frame Choice & Size
Comfort with new glasses will generally depend on the size of the frame you choose and how well you fit the frames to your face. Contact your optician if you’re experiencing trouble adapting to your new glasses.
It’s important to note that flatter frames are better for you if you have an astigmatism. If you choose a curved or wraparound frame, it can end up distorting your vision. The frame should sit comfortably yet securely on the bridge of the nose, so you can focus clearly.
There may be some adjustment period with progressive lenses, generally about two weeks. As long as you allow yourself enough time to wear your new glasses regularly, you should become used to them in a couple weeks.
Benefits & Drawbacks
Multifocal eyeglasses are designed to correct nearsightedness (myopia) and farsightedness (hyperopia).
The most obvious benefit of multifocal glasses is improved visibility at various distances. People who need varying degrees of eye correction for different tasks will benefit greatly.
If you’re nearsighted, for instance, your prescription for reading glasses may differ quite a bit from the one you need for driving. You can use the same eyeglasses for reading and driving if they are made with multifocal lenses.
Multifocal glasses allow more independence in life since you don’t have to worry about switching glasses throughout your day. Most people cite this as the primary benefit of these glasses. Good vision at all distances becomes a given when you wear multifocal glasses.
Multifocal glasses may cost more than your average pair of glasses. They are considered specialized lenses. Even if your insurance covers a pair of glasses, you may have to pay the difference in price between standard lenses and multifocal lenses out of pocket.
The adjustment period is also a potential drawback. Most people find the adjustment period is not intensive, however, and they don’t notice anything different about wearing them after about two weeks.
Where to Purchase Multifocal Glasses
You can purchase multifocal glasses from most major glasses retailers. You’ll need a prescription from an optometrist or ophthalmologist, and you can fill that prescription from various providers, ranging from specialized eyeglass retailers to big-box retailers like Target Optical or Costco. Many optometrists also sell eyeglasses in their offices.
You can also find non-prescription multi-focus reading glasses from general retailers like Amazon. These readers offer you different focal points under the umbrella of “reading glasses,” so you generally will not expect to maintain good distance vision with these glasses.
For best results, get a prescription from an eyecare professional and have lenses made to fit your prescription.
Multifocal Glasses FAQs
What are multifocal glasses?
Multifocal glasses allow for clear vision at various distances. This is because the lenses offer different focusing powers, often providing wearers with clear up-close, intermediate, and far vision.
How do multifocal glasses work?
Multifocal glasses essentially combine three separate prescriptions (one for up-close vision, one for intermediate vision, and one for far vision) into one lens. Unlike bifocals and trifocals, there aren’t lines of demarcation on these lenses. This allows the wearer to seamlessly transition between different focal points.
What is the difference between multifocal and progressive lenses?
These terms are sometimes used interchangeably to describe glasses that correct near, intermediate, and far vision. In some cases, people use the term progressive lenses to refer to bifocals, but generally, the term is used to describe multifocal glasses. Multifocal lenses do not have lines on them delineating different fields of vision like bifocal lenses do.
Can you wear multifocal glasses all the time?
Yes, many people wear their multifocal glasses throughout the entire day since they can easily switch between tasks with these lenses.
How long does it take to get used to multifocal lenses?
It varies somewhat between individuals, but most people adjust to multifocal lenses within about two weeks. In some cases, it can take up to four weeks.
Do multifocal glasses work for everyone?
They work well for most people, offering clear vision at different focal points. In some cases, people may still have difficulty seeing clearly for very detailed, up-close tasks.
Why does my vision seem blurry with multifocal glasses?
It’s normal to experience some degree of blurriness initially. After your eyes adjust to the multifocal lenses, your vision will usually clear.
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Multifocal Vision After Cataract Surgery. (February 1998). Current Opinion in Ophthalmology.
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The Refractive Index of the Human Cornea: A Review. (October 2019). Contact Lens & Anterior Eye.
Does Material Abbe Value Influence Your Patient’s Vision? (September 2015). 20/20 Magazine.
Adaptation to Progressive Additive Lenses: Potential Factors to Consider. (May 2017). Scientific Reports.
Presbyopic Personal Computer Work: A Comparison of Progressive Addition Lenses for General Purpose and Personal Computer Work. (November 2018). Optometry & Vision Science.
Last Updated March 15, 2023
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