Your eyes are getting tired from using the computer all day, or maybe you’re just having difficulty reading fine print.

Either way, you’re faced with a choice:

Do you grab over-the-counter (non-prescription) reading glasses for a few bucks, or would you be better off with customized prescription reading glasses?

As an optometrist, I get this question from patients frequently. The answer is different for each patient, but I can explain how you can come up with the answer for yourself in this article.

Let’s start with a couple of basic questions on reading glasses…

Do I need a prescription for reading glasses?

The short answer is you do not need a prescription for reading glasses. It’s a little more complicated than that, though. Every state is different, but non-prescription reading glasses usually are defined as plus (+) prescriptions that are the same in both eyes. States vary on the exact definition, but most limit the prescription to a maximum of around +2.50 and some go a little higher.

So what does “same in both eyes, plus prescriptions, and under +2.50” really mean? Basically, those prescriptions cover people who have good distance vision but need help seeing close up.

You can figure out what prescription would be best for you with our reading glasses prescription calculator.

Are cheap reading glasses bad for my eyes?

Even dollar store reading glasses won’t hurt your eyes. If you get the wrong power glasses as an adult, there worst that will happen is you get headaches and eye strain. They won’t cause eye damage.

With that in mind, It always good to see an eye doctor if it’s been a few years, or you’ve had significant vision changes. The concern isn’t that reading glasses are bad for your eyes, but that your vision changes aren’t due to presbyopia (see what is presbyopia) but some other eye disease.

(and while we’re talking about it, just a friendly reminder that many eye diseases like glaucoma don’t have symptoms until it’s too late to reverse the damage. also, eye exams can even detect early symptoms of diseases that are important to catch early like diabetes, high blood pressure, and auto-immune conditions to name a few. so get your eyes checked!)

When should I spend the money on prescription reading glasses (customized “readers”)?

There’s no question OTC reading glasses are way cheaper than prescription. So, all things equal, you should go with over-the-counter readers.

So when does it make sense to spend the extra money on prescription glasses?

Here are 7 reasons you might want to splurge on prescription reading glasses:

1. You have different strength prescriptions in each eye

OTC reading glasses have the same prescription in both eyes. This works perfectly if you also have the same prescription in both eyes.

If you know your prescriptions are different between your eyes, then non-prescription readers may not work. You should consider custom reading glasses with different strengths for each eye if their prescription is more than 0.50 difference between each eye’s prescription. Lower than that and you can probably tolerate the difference with non-prescription glasses.

2. You have astigmatism

Ever heard you have astigmatism?

It’s very common, and it basically means you have two prescriptions in each eye rather than one prescription through the whole lens. Some people describe it as your eye being shaped like a football instead of a basketball.

Just because you have some astigmatism, doesn’t mean you’re forced into prescription reading glasses. My rule of thumb is if you have 0.75 or higher in prescription, it’s worth getting prescription readers.

3. You have prism in your glasses

You probably don’t have to worry about this one. Prism is rarely prescribed, and when it is, there’s likely been a conversation with your doctor about it. Most patients know they have prism because they had a history of double vision or an eye turn (“lazy eye” or “wandering eye”) and the prism fixed it.

4. You wear glasses for far away

If you wear glasses far away (or have been prescribed glasses for far away and don’t wear them!), the non-prescription reading glasses might not work out for you. Most of this is covered above, but sometimes patients come in and have a distance prescription but are trying OTC readers to help their near vision. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. You can get a better idea by using our reading glasses prescription calculator.

Also, if you fall into this category, you could consider wearing contact lenses. Read more about your options for contact lenses with presbyopia.

5. You want anti-glare, blue light blocking, or other coatings on your glasses

Sometimes a glasses lens seems a simple piece of plastic, but usually, they have special treatments and coatings. These coatings vary in quality, and many help glasses wearers prevent eye strain. Anti-glare is the most common, especially for computer users.

Blue light blocking glasses are trendy lately. There’s debate on how damaging blue light is, and how much blue-light blocking glasses help. But some patients definitely feel it helps reduce their eye strain on the computer.

Sometimes you can find reading glasses with these types of coatings built-in, but most glasses you pick up at the drugstore or dollar store won’t have it.

6. You want a certain style.

Since your face is the first thing people look at, glasses can really change your look. That’s why they are not only a medical device but also a fashion accessory.

Reading glasses have come a long way from your grandma’s readers, and you can find fashionable over-the-counter options. But if there’s a specific style you’re looking for, whether that a certain look or designer brand, the most unique looks will come in prescription. Plus, anti-reflective coating can make or break the look of a pair of glasses. Even though anti-reflective coating is prescribed to help prevent eye strain, it also prevents your glasses from reflecting in pictures and when people look at you.

7. You don’t want to take glasses on and off

One problem with reading glasses is they make you blurrier far away. That’s why glasses like progressives and bifocals were invented–these give you a distance prescription on the top and a reading prescription on the bottom. Learn more about your glasses options for presbyopia.

Any other options?

Now you know which wins the battle for your eyes between OTC readers and prescription readers.

But what about non-glasses options?

You’re definitely not stuck with glasses if you don’t want them. Learn about other presbyopia treatment options.

Scroll to Top