Presbyopia. Almost of us will experience it.
The onset of what's called presbyopia is what dictates the need for reading glasses -- something most men and women approaching middle age dread.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines presbyopia as a condition in which the lens of the eye loses its ability to focus: The elasticity of the lens slowly diminishes with age. This causes us to have difficulty focusing on nearby objects.
Age 45 seems to be the magic number -- that's when most of us realize we need reading glasses. It happens to both people with normal vision and those who have had Lasik corrective surgery.
It often begins with the realization that reading small print in a phone directory, the ingredients on a can label or some print in an e-reader has become difficult, if not impossible. Most of the time, this loss of nearsightedness is due to aging.
But there can be other causes.
"Eye health is often overlooked because diseases that affect the eyes occur gradually and without pain and the effects may also be monocular, only in one eye, so that unless you cover the bad eye you may not notice the impairment," says Dr. Jeffrey Willig, a board-certified ophthalmologist with Florida Eye Health in Naples.
"Just as a mother may not notice the growth of a child because it is very gradual, until Grandma comes and is amazed at how tall the child has become, we may not notice the loss of vision or the change in colors over long periods of time."
Over-the-counter reading glasses are available, but they're not for everyone. An eye examination is recommended to ensure the correct strength.
"Although some people do not need a prescription to get reading glasses, which we refer to as 'over-the-counter readers' or just 'readers,' these are usually only for people who have never worn glasses or contact lenses," says Willig.
"While using readers is not dangerous, the wrong readers may cause symptoms of eye strain we call asthenopia," he says.
Asthenopia can include headaches, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, neck pain from straining to see and pain adjacent to the eye area.
Amy Spence of the Naples area, who recently celebrated her 48th birthday, concedes she had procrastinated getting reading glasses for years. For Spence, it was about the hassle of having to keep up with glasses.
"I don't carry a purse and would see my friends having to dig around for their glasses at restaurants and having to wait to be able to read the menu, so to have to constantly keep up with them seemed like a hassle to me," she said.
Spence changed her mind when she realized that her inability to read things close up was affecting her love of reading.
"It definitely pushed me to go get glasses, because it got to the point that I had to stretch my arms to be able to read my iPad at night," says Spence, who had to obtain prescription lenses. "I had laser surgery years and years ago, so I knew this day would come eventually."
Spence says now she doesn't even notice her glasses and wearing them has become like second nature to her.
According to a survey published in 20/20 Magazine, nearly half of eyewear retailers who participated reported that reading glasses sales have skyrocketed. Those sales are largely due to the increase in procedures like Lasik. As Willig says, people who have had Lasik to correct distance vision will eventually need reading glasses by age 45.
"Some Lasik patients may purposely be undercorrected for distance to allow them to read without glasses," he says. "They may opt for monovision, which is one eye corrected for reading and one for distance."
The attitude toward reading glasses has shifted astronomically. Retro reading glasses such as those worn generations ago have become fashionable. Custom reading glasses have become all the rage, a new way for people to express themselves. Provided you know the correct strength, you can now obtain glasses that reflect personal style online. Companies like Reading Glasses, Etc. (www.readingglassesetc.com) are capitalizing on the hype and offering everything from rhinestone to sculpted frames.
Even if you suspect it's time for reading glasses, Willig says self-diagnosis is never a good idea.
"Since vision loss is gradual and painless, everyone should see an eye doctor for a routine exam once a year and, of course, if you do have any symptoms, such as loss of vision, pain or a red eye, you should seek attention immediately."