Cheap Reading Glasses: Can They Hurt Your Vision?

cheap reading glasses laying on an open book

Your vision changes over time just like the rest of your body. Most people begin to have trouble seeing at close distances around the age of 45. This is caused by presbyopia, a hardening of the lens that affects 96% of people between the ages of 40 and 55. Many turn to cheap reading glasses to address the problem, but can they hurt your vision over time?

Reading glasses from the drugstore won’t do long-term damage to your vision. However, they can cause other issues such as eye fatigue and headaches. That’s because they are mass-produced rather than customized to the individual wearer. If you need reading glasses to see clearly throughout the day, it may be time to talk to your eye doctor about getting prescription glasses.

Do Cheap Reading Glasses Hurt Your Vision

Cheap reading glasses won’t hurt your vision in the long term. On the other hand, they can cause issues for your eyes if you wear them for long periods of time. 

This is due to a number of factors including:

  • Fit
  • Lens quality
  • Lens coatings
  • Prescription accuracy

Fit can affect your vision since reading glasses from a drugstore are made on a mass scale. They are not tailored to your eyes specifically. Some will work better than others but none are made specifically for you. They can also have poor lens quality with distortions in and throughout the lenses, resulting in increased eye fatigue. Reading glasses can also have cheap lens coatings or none at all, making them easier to scratch. Lens accuracy can be a problem since they may not have the correct prescription listed.

Learn the answer to “Why do my glasses give me a headache?”


Reading Glasses vs. Prescription Eyeglassesolder man using reading glasses to read the newspaper

Cheap reading glasses from drugstores are constructed from magnifying lenses and set into eyeglass frames. Also known as readers or cheaters they are a popular over-the-counter option (OTC) for people who only need help reading or seeing objects close-up. A prescription pair of glasses, on the other hand, is customized to the exact needs of both individual eyes. 

Reading Glasses

The biggest reason for the popularity of drugstore reading glasses is their cost. This means that you can buy cheap without having to go through the eye exam process. It also means that they come with downsides such as having weaker frames and lenses that are easily scratched. 

They also won’t correct other eye problems that you may have. This includes refractive errors such as: 

  • Nearsightedness
  • Farsightedness
  • Astigmatism

Another downside of reading glasses is that both lenses have the same prescription. To get the best experience from these lenses, you need to have the exact same vision in both eyes. Otherwise, your vision may not be as clear as it would be with prescription glasses. 

Cheap reading glasses can have their benefits in the right situations. For example, they can be convenient when wearing them for short periods of time.

This includes reading:

  • The paper
  • A restaurant menu
  • Small print on a label

However, they are not intended to be worn for long periods of time. Wearing them for hours while reading or working on a computer can result in eye strain and headaches. In cases like these, a more comprehensive option may be necessary for your eye health.

Despite this, over-the-counter glasses may be a viable option for some people.

Learn why you should also avoid cheap sunglasses from the drugstore.


Prescription Glassesreading glasses lying next to a pen on top of newspaper crossword puzzle

You’ll need to have the exact same vision in both eyes to get the most out of reading glasses. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for most people. Also known as single-vision glasses, prescription glasses fill this gap. They allow your optician to customize each lens to the needs of your eyes, including refractive errors. 

Along with customized lenses, your optician will also take the distance between your pupils into account. Pupillary distance (PD) is important since it ensures that your prescription lenses align with your eyes.

It takes where you look through the glasses into consideration, reducing the risk of:

  • Blurry vision
  • Eyestrain
  • Headaches

Finding a pair of cheap reading glasses that fits your PD can be difficult. You face similar challenges with OTC blue light glasses and when you buy glasses online. While everyone loves free shipping, it’s not worth it for a pair of glasses that may cause eyestrain and headaches.

Opt for a high-quality pair of prescription glasses from your eye doctor, instead. Lenses from a prescription laboratory are made of sturdier materials that provide sharper clarity. They’re also a better option for seeing up close for long periods of time and addressing multiple vision problems at once. 

Are you having trouble seeing things up close or need to upgrade your reading glasses? Contact us today to schedule your appointment!


Drugstore reading glasses won’t cause any long-term damage to your eyes. On the other hand, they can cause eye strain, headaches, and other problems if they’re worn for too long. If you have any of these symptoms or need help seeing up close for long periods then it may be time for prescription glasses. They are customized just for you so that you can see clearly and comfortably all day long.

Baptist Eye Surgeons is an ophthalmological practice in Knoxville, TN, Morristown, and Sevierville. Call us at 865-579-3920 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and new information.

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