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What Are Bifocals?

One of the most popular types of eyewear, bifocals can help you to see clearly far away and up close. As we age, it’s common for our near vision to become blurry due to a normal condition called presbyopia. Individuals who would rather wear one pair of glasses all day long instead of taking on and off a pair of reading glasses often opt for a set of bifocal lenses.

Just as the name describes, bifocals include two different lens powers to help you see. The top portion of the lens is corrected for your distance vision or can include no correction at all if your distance vision is perfect. Just below a nearly invisible line in the lens is a magnification section that helps you to read, sew, or do any other close-up task with ease. Many people love the convenience of bifocals as they can go about their day without having to think about their eyewear.

pair of gamma ray bifocal sunglasses with purple lens tint

Who Invented Bifocals?

The original pair of bifocal glasses date much farther back in history than you might imagine. Benjamin Franklin is credited with creating this type of eyewear in the late 1760s and early 1770s. Just like many of us, he needed to wear glasses to see clearly far away but found that he also needed help with reading as he got older.

Franklin decided to cut both his distance glasses and reading glasses in half and placed the distance pair on top of the reading pair. At first, he named them “double spectacles” but as others began to create other types of eyewear in the mid-1820s, the name “bifocal” emerged. In 1908, glasses manufacturers started fusing the two halves together to provide additional strength to the frames.

How do Bifocal Lenses Work?

Bifocal glasses are one of the easiest ways to see both near and far clearly, allowing you to wear your glasses all day without having to give them much thought. These lenses contain two different types of prescriptions — the top portion is designed to help you see clearly far away, typically at distances that are farther from you than an arm’s reach. The lower portion of the lens is magnified to help you see close up.

When you look closely at a pair of bifocal lenses, you can see a line running horizontally along the lens. This line divides the lens into its two distinct types of powers. Many people prefer to wear bifocals as it offers them a large viewing area for both distance and close vision without having to switch between a distance only or reading only pair throughout the day.

Single Vision vs. Bifocals

man looking at his computer wearing a pair of blue light glasses

Single Vision Lenses

Single vision lenses contain only one type of prescription and are typically used for seeing far away or for reading. These glasses are better if you’re going to be engaging in one type of activity for long periods of time, like driving or reading a book.

man standing outside wearing a pair of bifocal sun readers

Bifocal Lenses

Bifocals offer two types of vision correction and can be worn all day no matter what you’re doing. These glasses are better if you need help seeing clearly both far away and up close and don’t want to have to switch between two sets of glasses.

Types of Bifocal Glasses

The concept of bifocal glasses has been expanded upon as eyewear technology has improved, and there are many types of bifocals available to meet your needs. Rather than opting for a basic pair of bifocal lenses, you have the option to select any number of multifocal lens designs. Some people even find that more than one type of bifocal can be helpful throughout the day depending on the activities you’re involved with.

woman reading a book wearing a pair of bifocal reading glasses

Standard Bifocal Readers

A standard pair of bifocal lenses include a top correction for seeing far away and a lower portion for magnification. Many people love to wear this type of eyewear as it takes the guesswork out of seeing clearly. Bifocal readers are very stylish and can help to make everyday tasks a breeze.

man standing outside wearing a pair of bifocal reading sunglasses

Bifocal Sunglasses

If you love spending time outside but find that juggling reading glasses with sunglasses is too difficult, bifocal sunglassesa> can help. With these glasses, you’ll be able to see clearly in the distance, allowing you to watch your kids at the pool or enjoy a sunset. The magnification portion down below lets you read with ease all while keeping your eyes safe from UV exposure.

man at a construction site wearing a pair of bifocal safety glasses

Bifocal Safety Glasses

Staying safe at work is crucial, especially when it comes to keeping your vision healthy. Whether you work on a construction site or in a lab with chemicals, wearing bifocal safety glasses is important. This multifocal option can be made with safety thickness lenses and offers crisp vision both far away and up close.

progressive lenses showing the range of vision

Progressive Lenses

Considered to be some of the most advanced lens options on the market, progressive glasses are essentially a no-line trifocal. They include a correction for distance, intermediate, and near vision without any visible lines on the surface of the lens. Each section blends from one to the next and can be very convenient.

trifocal lenses showing the range of vision

Trifocal Glasses

Similar to bifocals, trifocals also offer more than one vision correction in a single pair of glasses. By using two lines to segment the lens into three sections, trifocals offer a prescription for distance, near, and intermediate, which is typically used when on the computer. If you find yourself juggling multiple tasks throughout the day, trifocals could be a great option.

pair of bifocal reading glasses laying on a stack of books

Do I need Bifocal Glasses?

Just like any other type of eyewear, the decision to wear bifocal glasses is a personal one. If you find that you are having a hard time seeing both far away and up close and you’d rather address both prescriptions with one set of glasses, bifocals might be the best option for you. Others find that they prefer the comfort of wearing a single vision pair of glasses if they’re going to be looking far away or up close only for long periods of time.

The technology used to make bifocal glasses has grown over the years to the point where it’s nearly impossible to see the line that separates the two prescription types. Bifocals can be just as fashionable as any other type of eyewear and are very convenient for many people. Only you can decide if wearing bifocals is the right option to keep your vision healthy.

Frequently Asked Questions

For some people, wearing bifocals includes a little bit of a learning curve. You’ll probably find that the more often you wear them, the more comfortable you are and the easier it will be to smoothly transition between the two lens portions.

Some bifocal glasses do not contain a distance correction and include a simple magnification in the lower section and can be purchased without a prescription. However, if you find that you also need help seeing clearly far away, you’ll need a prescription written by your eye doctor. You can then purchase eyewear which will contain a prescription that’s customized for your specific distance and near vision.

You may hear some people claiming that bifocal glasses, or all prescription glasses in general, make your eyes weaker or worse. This is simply a rumor, as wearing bifocal glasses does not harm your vision in any way.

It’s a smart idea to wear your bifocal glasses as much as possible when you first get them as it may take some time to get used to them. Most people find that they wear their bifocals all day for the convenience that they provide.