Buyer Beware: Not All Bifocal Lenses Are Created Equally

I can’t count the number of times I have heard patients say to me, “I have tried no-line bifocals before and just couldn’t get used to them.” What you might not know about no-line bifocals, or what we call “Progressive Addition Lenses” (PAL), is that there are over 100 different models and designs of progressive lenses, made by over a dozen different companies. To understand why this matters, we need to compare this to something you probably know a lot more about – shoes. There are many different companies out there that make shoes. Most of the stores that sell shoes carry many different brands of shoes, some of them are better quality, and some are of lower quality. Some shoes are made to meet certain needs, and are better than other shoes for meeting that need.

Now read those last three sentences again, but replace the word “shoes” with “PAL.” In the same way that you wouldn’t feel comfortable in a low-quality pair of shoes, you also probably wouldn’t feel comfortable looking through a low-quality PAL. Most optical shops don’t tell you the model or brand of PAL they are selling to you, or how those lenses are compared to others. Be careful what some chains call a “premium lens” – it may only be premium in comparison to other poor-quality lenses they have.

Whether you have had a bad experience with PAL, or are trying your first, make sure to ask a lot of questions, do some research on different types of lenses, and make sure to talk with the person in the optical shop about your needs and expectations. Some PALs have wider intermediate zones for computer use, some can fit into smaller frames, and some are made with newer computerized technology and can increase contrast at night. With the right selection of a high-quality PAL specific to your needs, you will have a great experience and be happy in your new lenses.

– Andrew M. Harvey, OD