Reviewed by : Dr. Matthew Miller, OD on Jun 17, 2021

“Doc, I got these ‘cheaters’ at the dollar store. I had to do something because I couldn’t see up close anymore.” I hear this phrase, or a variation of it, multiple times a day. Oftentimes, it’s followed up with the question: “Are cheap reading glasses bad for my eyes?” The short answer is it depends. But, of course, an answer like that requires an explanation...

In a small percentage of patients, cheap reading glasses are perfectly fine. They won’t damage your vision, per se. However, there are many factors that affect how well cheap reading glasses will work for you. You need to understand that the quality of a $1 pair of reading glasses won’t be great. The lenses will be basic and easy to scratch. You might need to get to grips with lenses that don’t fit in the frame properly or even the powers being slightly off between the two. There’s also a chance they won’t line up in the frame properly and it’s quite common for the temples to break off or become misaligned on the frame of a cheap pair of readers. While cheap pairs may be functional for some people and can certainly get you by in a pinch, they probably won’t survive the everyday wear and tear that a more expensive pair will. They aren’t necessarily as good for your eyes as a more expensive or prescription pair of readers would be either.

What’s the Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Reading Glasses?

The primary difference is in the quality of the materials. More expensive reading glasses will be made with better, higher quality materials. The lenses may be scratch resistant and fit the frame better. They may be made out of thinner and lighter materials. They’re more likely to have accurate lens powers. The frame may be sturdier, the list goes on...

Are Prescription Reading Glasses Better than Over-The-Counter?

There are some issues that cheap and expensive reading glasses share. That is, if they’re both what we’d call ‘over-the-counter’ pairs. Over-the-counter readers, regardless of whether they're expensive or not, usually aren’t made of the same quality materials as prescription eyewear. Additionally, prescription readers are specifically tailored for your specific eye needs. If your eyes have different prescriptions, prescription readers will correct both eyes accurately. With over-the-counter readers, you don’t have the option of having different prescriptions in both eyes. Prescription readers are made specifically to fit your face and pupillary distance (or PD, the distance between the right and left pupils). Over-the-counter readers are often designed to fit the most common face shapes and PDs. Getting a poorly fit, misaligned pair of over-the-counter readers can lead to uncomfortable frames, strained eyes, and headaches. So, are cheap reading glasses bad for eyes? Again, while it’s not necessarily true that cheap reading glasses are bad for your eyes, it’s safe to say that shelling out a little extra to upgrade to a more expensive (better) or prescription (best) pair is a wise investment. If you’re constantly buying pairs for a buck, you get what you pay for, as the old adage goes. The improvement in the quality, vision, fit and comfort of the glasses themselves are all well worth the extra money. Always try to do what’s best for your eyes!

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