What is presbyopia?

Is it becoming a little difficult to read a restaurant menu without holding it at arm’s length? Have you recently had to increase the text size on your phone? Do you need to squint to be able to read the newspaper? If you’ve experienced one or more of the above, chances are your eyes are developing presbyopia. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly natural and absolutely nothing to worry about: presbyopia is one of the most common eye conditions, affecting over 2 billion people around the world.

The older we get, the less flexible our eye’s natural lens becomes, meaning it struggles to focus when you look at things up-close. Presbyopia is a natural part of aging; like muscles, we find our eyes just don’t work as they once did. It typically starts in our forties but can happen earlier or later for some. Chances are you will have seen some of the signs of presbyopia in friends or family before now - it really does affect most people.

A convenient, hygienic, fuss-free way to treat presbyopia is with multifocal contact lenses (you may have heard of these being called varifocal contact lenses or bifocal contact lenses). There are a lot of innovative products making people’s lives a lot easier the world over, so we put together a list of our top-selling daily and reusable multifocal contact lenses in 2019 for daily and monthly wearers.

How common is presbyopia?

In the developed world, presbyopia is widespread and affects increasing numbers of people as life expectancy increases. Data from the Office of National Statistics indicates that in the UK there are currently 80% more people over the age of 65 than in the mid-twentieth century and, with the median age likely to pass 40 in the near future, the numbers of people experiencing age-related health problems is certain to increase too. In 2005 the World Health Organisation estimated that in excess of one billion people worldwide suffered from presbyopia with approximately 50% not having suitable glasses to correct their vision, especially in developing countries. In all parts of the world, presbyopia is a common problem.

What causes presbyopia?

As a condition usually associated with advancing age, presbyopia is often a gradual progression, the severity of which worsens over time. Rather than being related to the shape of the eyeball, which is the cause of other conditions such as short and long-sightedness, presbyopia occurs as a result of the lens becoming thicker and less flexible, meaning that it is unable to focus clearly on close-up objects or takes longer to do so. Light received by the cornea is not deflected onto the retina but behind it, leading to blurred images and the sensation of eye strain as the lens attempts to focus more effectively. Changes to the muscles which surround the lens may also contribute to the condition.

What are the symptoms of presbyopia?

The first sign a person who suffers from presbyopia may notice is the blurring of objects or small print when held close to their eyes, especially in low light conditions. Close up work, such as intricate stitching, reading of fine print or even trimming or painting fingernails, may cause eye strain which, if continued for a period of time, can also contribute to headaches and tiredness. Holding an object such as a book or newspaper at arm's length may offer a more comfortable reading experience - in fact, many sufferers describe the condition as if their arms have suddenly become 'too short'.

How can presbyopia be treated?

Various options exist to treat presbyopia in order to afford sufferers normal close-up vision and to relieve symptoms. The most common treatment is for an optician to supply the patient with one of a number of different types of glasses:

  • Bifocal lenses are divided into two sections to enable to wearer to achieve optimum distance vision and improved close up vision.
  • Progressive addition lenses (PALs) work in a similar way to traditional bifocals but instead of having a clear dividing line to separate the two parts of the lens, they are blended together more effectively. This means you can look into the distance or at an object right in front of you with ease and comfort.
  • Reading glasses can sometimes be a suitable treatment option and can be worn only for close up work on an as and when required basis, instead of throughout most of the day. Wearing contact lenses already is not an obstacle to using reading glasses in addition, as a suitable pair can be prescribed by your optician which you can wear while your contacts are still in, just for close-up tasks.
  • Contact lenses are the preferred treatment for many patients with presbyopia, either the multifocal variety or monovision lenses. The latter provide you with one lens for distance vision and another lens for near vision, which are worn alternately. When effective, monovision lenses enable the patient's brain to decide which eye to rely upon for distance or close-up work but the feedback from users is varied, suggesting that these lenses are not universally suitable for everyone.

Bear in mind that, as a progressive condition, presbyopia will often worsen over time so you should continue to attend regular eye tests. Your optician may change your prescription in future as a result of the examination.