Can Drug Store Reading Glasses Harm Your Eyesight?

Reading glasses typically become necessary as we age. WebMD explains that this is due to the eyes' natural tendency to lose the ability to focus as they start to degenerate, leading to a condition known as presbyopia. It starts to develop as people reach their 40s and typically gets worse over the next couple of decades, adds Mayo Clinic. Because it comes on so gradually, it may take you a bit to realize that you can't see as well when reading something close-up. However, the tell-tale signs that you might be developing presbyopia are blurred vision when reading, needing to extend the reading material farther away from your eyes than usual, and headaches after reading.

A visit to an optometrist will allow you to officially receive a diagnosis. The doctor will carry out a number of exams, including a refraction assessment and dilation test, as per the Cleveland Clinic. If you're diagnosed with presbyopia, you won't necessarily need to purchase prescription reading glasses to alleviate the condition. Instead, you can choose a pair of over-the-counter reading glasses from a drugstore, which will enable you to read with more clarity and focus. The AARP explains that reading glasses are sold in a variety of different strengths. Once you get to the store, you can simply experiment with the different strengths available to see which ones work the best.

However, you may be wondering if there is any harm in using over-the-counter reading glasses. Here's what we know.

Reading glasses may or may not be the best choice for you

In short, you can rest assured that drugstore reading glasses will not cause harm to your eyes, but they also may not be the best choice for you either, explains Mountain View Optometry. You can typically get away with using them if you don't spend a ton of time reading or looking at things close-up. However, the more often you use them, the less likely they will prove effective for alleviating your presbyopia. In fact, they may even worsen the symptoms associated with the condition, including headaches, blurriness, and tiredness, if they aren't adequate for your needs.

The main issue with over-the-counter reading glasses is that they don't take into consideration any differences between your eyes, especially if you have astigmatism, which is when the eye isn't perfectly curved, leading to blurred vision, per Mayo Clinic. Prescription lenses can help correct astigmatism as well as provide different strengths for each eye, states Glens. Additionally, if your presbyopia coexists with a different vision problem, such as myopia (otherwise known as nearsightedness — a condition in which your vision is blurred when looking at things at a distance, via WebMD), bifocal or progressive prescription glasses will be able to treat both conditions at the same time.

To sum up, reading glasses are safe to use. However, you should consult with a doctor to determine whether an investment in prescription lenses is best for your vision needs.