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Eyeglasses and Contact Lenses

Lenses for correcting or improving vision

There are two types of lenses prescribed for correcting or improving vision. These include:

  • Eyeglasses (also called spectacles). Eyeglasses, the most common form of eyewear used to correct or improve many types of vision problems, are a frame that holds two pieces of glass or plastic, which have been ground into lenses to correct refractive errors. Refractive errors can include nearsightedness or myopia (difficulty seeing far away), farsightedness or hyperopia (difficulty seeing close up), and astigmatism (blurring due to an irregularly shaped cornea). Eyeglasses perform this function by adding or subtracting focusing power to the eye's cornea and lens.

  • Contact lenses. Contact lenses are worn directly on the cornea of the eye. Like eyeglasses, contact lenses help to correct refractive errors and perform this function by adding or subtracting focusing power to the eye's cornea and lens.

How to read an eyeglass prescription

The lens power of eyeglasses is measured in diopters. This measurement reflects the amount of power necessary to focus images directly on to the retina. When looking at an eyeglasses prescription, you will see the following abbreviations:

Illustration of  a pair of eyeglasses
Click Image to Enlarge

O.D. Oculus dextrous simply refers to the right eye (sometimes the abbreviation RE is used).

O.S. Oculus sinister refers to the left eye (sometimes the abbreviation LE is used).

In addition, the eyeglass prescription may also contain the following measurements.

Sphere

This number measurement reflects the extent of the nearsightedness or farsightedness.

Cylinder

This number measurement refers to the amount of astigmatism (an irregularly shaped cornea which causes blurring) in the eye.

Axis

This number measurement describes the astigmatism in degrees from the horizontal (most left and right eyes have the same axis in astigmatism) axis.

Bifocal prescriptions, which correct both nearsightedness and farsightedness, usually have an additional measurement listed on the prescription as "add" to indicate the strength of the lens.

What are the different types of eyeglass lenses?

The type of lenses used in eyeglasses depends on the type of vision problem and may include:

  • Concave lenses. These are thinnest in the center. They are used to correct nearsightedness (myopia), the numerical prescription in diopters is always marked with a minus (-) symbol.

  • Convex lenses. These are thickest in the center, like a magnifying glass. They are used to correct farsightedness (hyperopia), the numerical prescription in diopters is always marked with a plus (+) symbol.

  • Cylindrical lenses. These curve more in one direction than in the other and are often used to correct astigmatism.

Facts about contact lenses

Over 30 million Americans wear contact lenses, 80 percent of whom wear daily wear soft lenses. Currently, there are four types of contact lenses in use: 

  • The soft, water-absorbing lens

  • The rigid, gas-permeable lens

  • Other rigid lenses

  • Other flexible, nonwater absorbing lenses

Reading a contact lens prescription

The prescription for contact lenses includes more information than what is available on the prescription for eyeglasses. Special measurements will need to be taken of the curvature of the eye. In addition, the doctor will determine if the eyes are too dry for contact lenses, and if there are any corneal problems that may prevent a person from wearing contact lenses. Trial lenses are usually tested on the eyes for a period of time to ensure proper fit.

The contact lens prescription usually includes the following information:

  • Contact lens power (measured in diopters, like eyeglasses)

  • Contact lens base curve

  • Diameter of the lens

  • Contact lens manufacturer

  • Expiration date

Eye care specialists are required by federal law to give you a copy of your contact lens specifications.

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