Why do I need bifocals is a very common question. As a child we have a tremendous capacity to focus at near and as we get older our ability to focus at near slowly decreases to the point where around 40 years of age we begin to notice that it takes a significant effort to read. We need more light than we used to. The print quality has to be good. We can’t read as well in the afternoon. Sometimes we can read at near, but when we look up the distance is blurry. These are all signs of presbyopia. From the age of 40 to approximately the mid 60’s we notice the decline of our near vision. This is called presbyopia (prez-bē-ˈō-pē-ə).
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Hyperopia, commonly referred to as farsightedness, is when a person sees better in the distance than at near. Light entering the eye focuses behind the retina placing a blurry image on the retina. For a hyperopic person to see clearly at any distance a muscle, inside the eye, called the ciliary body, must focus the lens inside the eye. As we get older it becomes more difficult for the eye to accomplish this auto focusing. Because of the eye’s ability to focus, farsighted people often don’t need glasses until their 30s or 40s.
Uncorrected farsightedness, however, may cause a person to experience eyestrain or an eye turn (strabismus), depending on the degree of farsightedness and the patient’s age. The younger we are the easier it is for the eye to compensate for farsightedness. Uncorrected farsightedness can lead to amblyopia. Farsightedness and presbyopia are often confused.
A person is presbyopic when the crystalline lens in the eye can no longer focus well at near, making reading glasses or bifocals necessary. A person can be both farsighted and presbyopic or nearsighted and presbyopic. Presbyopia typically begins in our early 40s. The older we get the more difficult it is for our eyes to focus at near. The effects of presbyopia level off in our mid to late 60s. Bifocals allows a person with presbyopia to see clearly at near and intermediate distances.