Could your vision and comfort in your Varifocals be better?

All varifocals are not created equal.

I regularly have people tell me that “my friend doesn’t get on with varifocals” or “I tried them in the past and they didn’t work for me”. But what if I told you that not every varifocal was the same and they certainly aren’t the same as they were 10, or even 5 years ago!? Below, I explain why varifocals are needed and what to look out for.

What does a varifocal do?

The lens hardening in the eye leads to a need for glasses or contact lenses that supplement your reading ability. You can do this in several ways, but for the sake of this report I shall just tell you about varifocals, the most practical way to wear glasses for almost everything. Varifocals have distance, middle distance and reading sections. They blend seamlessly together, meaning that there is no line visible in the lens and you have to look through the right bit of the lens to see properly.

In the diagram of the big orange glasses you see a standard and best version varifocal. The blue areas down either side show where the areas of distortion are. These exist because of the way the lens is made.


The area down the middle of each side is where vision is clear and comfortable. Now consider that the top third of that area is dedicated to your distance vision, the middle third to your middle distance (computer and other arms lengthish tasks) and the bottom third is for your reading. When you can see the difference between the standard and the best, you can start to understand the value. 

Are they difficult to get used to? 

The most common questions people ask me are "aren't they difficult to get used to?" and "can I try them first?". To address whether they are difficult to get used to depends on the person and the lens type. 

If you're ready for varifocals then you generally already know it. There is more about why lens types are important in the text below, but the main message is that "bad" varifocals are more difficult to get used to (for many reasons), whereas "good" varifocals significantly reduce the things you need to adapt to. Can you try them? Yes, but in the form of buying them, trying them in real life and if they don't work for you, bring them back in the trial period and get a refund. More of a risk-free trial period. So, lets get into how you make sure your varifocals are as good as they can be. 

The "best" lens isn't always the best lens. 

The "best" of any particular item is a very subjective thing. However, you would probably find strong agreement if you were to suggest the best Ferrari was better than the best BMW and the best BMW was better than the best Volvo. It doesn't mean that each company won't have a range of cars suitable for a range of needs, but they will work to a differing set of specifications. 

Spectacle lenses are very similar. They're all made of similar materials, but the way those materials are treated determine the quality of the end product. Labouring the car analogy, not all dealerships sell the Ferraris. Some will only sell Volvos. So, being the "best" can depend entirely on where you are. 

That being said many people will argue that BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar are similar levels of car and similar prices. This is again true of lenses. If one "best" doesn't suit you, all is not lost, there are other high-end options out there to try. 

How does using measuring technology help? 

We all come in lots of weird and wonderful shapes and sizes. Wonky nose, lop sided ears, one eye higher than the other. All this beautiful, normal variation makes a difference to all the glasses that you'll ever have. Not just because we all need glasses adjusted to fit our face, but we all need our lenses in the right place to make the most of them. 

Previously we used a ruler to measure these things, but technology allows us to take accuracy to the next level, so that lenses can be placed smack bang in front of the eyes. Not just that, but with the right bit of kit you can also map the way someone uses their eyes to create personalised lenses. Are we going to put your name on them? No, not that kind of personalisation. You want personalised lenses for the best vision possible in a particular frame. 

To make a little more sense of what that means, if you and I had exactly the same prescription in glasses and chose exactly the same frame, the likelihood is that we wouldn't look through the lenses in the same places. Our eyes would very likely be positioned in a different place in the frame looking straight ahead and we'd look through different points when we looked up, down, left and right. 

Technology can help us optimise lenses for these differences. When it comes to varifocals there are even more variables to consider. When you look to read, do you move your head down or you your eyes more? When you scan a sentence, again, are you tracing it more with your eyes or your head. With the best lenses, you need to take the best measurements. 

There are some frames that are more suitable than others. 

As mentioned before, it is important to have your lenses sat in the right place in front of your eyes. Having taken meticulous measurements for your lenses, you need them held in one spot on your face as comfortably as possible for as long as possible. The way to do that is by wearing a frame that fits you well and that you like wearing. One way to do this is by looking at hundreds of frames, trying each on in a trial and error fashion to see what suits you, what fits you and what is comfortable. The other way to do this (and I recommend this option) is of course to get someone who is properly trained to help you choose and to help you enjoy the experience.

Remember that everything has limitations. 

There is always a compromise when it comes to needing correction for distance and close. If you only have distance glasses, you can't see well to read, if you use reading glasses you can't see in the distance. Varifocals give the most practical vision for every distance, but even the very best has limitations, as the closer areas have reduced fields of view (see wonderful diagram above). Avid readers will often have a pair of varifocals and a pair of reading glasses for this very reason. One pair of glasses cannot cover all eventualities, but a decent pair of varifocals certainly comes pretty close. 

Useful resources

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