What are varifocal glasses?
by Jess Green, Practice Manager at Valli Opticians Almondbury, Huddersfield
One of the most common questions we get asked as dispensing opticians is about varifocals. Patients want to know how much they cost, what the lenses do and “will they work for me?”
So, here’s my low down on all things varifocal!
What do varifocal lenses do?
Over time our eye’s internal lens becomes less elasticated and more hardened meaning that we struggle to focus at different distances. This means prescription spectacle lenses or contact lenses are needed to help with reading or when using a computer.
In order for spectacles to help you to focus, you would need a prescription specific to the distance that you would be working at. This would mean a pair of glasses for reading, a separate pair for computer use or maybe for reading music or even spectacles to sharpen the vision for driving.
A pair of varifocal lenses, also known as progressive lenses, incorporates all of these different prescriptions to allow you to experience clear vision at all distances with only one pair of glasses rather than two or three.
A Dispensing Optician would take measurements to make sure the glasses are positioned correctly with the distance portion directly in your line of sight for when you are walking around or driving. The reading area is below this and will become clear when you look down at a book.
How much does a pair of varifocal glasses cost?
The cost of a pair of varifocal spectacles is very much dependent on which design you choose, after discussing your individual needs with your optician.
Non-bespoke and bespoke designs are available and this is where the prices can vary significantly. As with everything, the saying ‘you get what you pay for’ applies to your choice of varifocals. If you are looking for a pair of spectacles that would allow wide and very comfortable vision at all distances I would recommend a high quality bespoke varifocal where the lens price would start at around £250 with an anti-smudge anti-reflective coating. Non-bespoke lenses may not give as comfortable vision but the price of these starts at £114.
What is the difference between varifocals and bifocals?
Varifocals will allow you to have clear vision at all distances. This means that you can wear them for almost everything.
You can drive and walk around comfortably in varifocals as they allow a wide corridor of distance vision. You would also be able to use computers and tablets with ease as a varifocal incorporates an area of intermediate vision below the distance area. At the bottom of the spectacles you will also find the area of the lens which will allow you to read books or magazines comfortably.
Bifocals on the other hand, allow clear vision at a maximum of two distances. The top of the lens is normally used for distance vision such as driving, television and general walking around. The small segment at the bottom of the lens incorporates your near prescription so that you can read. This means that, if you use computers or tablets, you would struggle to see the screen clearly as a bifocal does not incorporate your intermediate prescription.
What are the benefits of varifocals?
Varifocal glasses eliminate the need to carry multiple pairs of spectacles around with you and mean you don’t have to regularly take your glasses on and off. With varifocals you can put your glasses on in the morning and leave them on all day if you want to. As varifocal lenses incorporate three main areas of vision this can be more cost effective, and certainly more convenient, than having three pairs of single vision spectacles.
Varifocals are also available in a photochromic lens option. This is where the lens will go darker when you are outside and go clear when you are inside. This often eliminates the need to carry around a pair of sunglasses and also has the added advantage of giving your eyes UV protection. Varifocals are also available in high index which means they can be made thinner and lighter.
Are varifocal glasses right for everyone?
No. If you need a different prescription lens for different distances or purposes, you have a choice of going for either varifocals, occupational lenses, bifocals, separate pairs or even contact lenses. Varifocals is just one solution that is on offer.
A small number of people struggle to adapt to varifocals but this is becoming less common due to the advances in lens technology. You are more likely to adapt quicker to a bespoke lens than a non-bespoke one.
I think varifocals are brilliant as they incorporate different aspects of your vision. However, due to their design, the narrowest area of vision for any traditional varifocal is the intermediate area. This can mean that someone who uses a computer every day may be better off with an occupational lens or a single vision intermediate pair of glasses instead or as well as a varifocal lens. This is why, at the time of your spectacle dispense, your optician will discuss your individual needs and requirements. If you find that you are struggling with varifocals then go back and discuss the problem with your optician as soon as you can. Quite often, issues with varifocals can be rectified quickly, with an adjustment to the fitting of the spectacles.