February 6, 2022

Non-Prescription ‘Cheaters’ vs. Prescription Glasses

Our vision and eye experts have the clear answer

man using cheater eyeglasses to read

Q: If you need assistance clearly seeing text, are “cheater” glasses just as good as prescription readers?

A: Aging can take a toll on your eyes, a reality obvious to anyone who has held a restaurant menu at arm’s length or up to their nose to clearly read the list of entrées.


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If this describes you, let’s start with the basics: It’s important to have your eyes examined to determine if you need a prescription for glasses or if there’s some other issue related to your vision. Don’t put this off.

Now, let’s talk about where you might be able to find corrective reading lenses if they’re needed.

For the vast majority of people, over-the-counter (OTC) readers should not be a problem as long as they match the power of the prescription. For instance, if your doctor recommends +2.00 in each eye, then purchasing OTC readers of the same power should generally suffice.

Know this, though: The quality of the lenses and materials of mass-produced readers are usually inferior to those of privately manufactured specs. Many people are willing to accept this compromise because of the low cost of the product.


There are instances where OTC readers are not ideal, though. In rare cases when the distance between pupils is very small or very wide, the lenses in OTC readers can cause eye strain or double vision.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms with OTC readers, it’s best to replace them with a proper pair of prescription glasses.

But if you can go the over-the-counter route, here are some tips.

  • Find the right power. Reading glasses will have signs or stickers noting their power. In most cases, they range from +1 to +4 diopter, in increments of +.25. Look for what matches your prescription. If you don’t have a prescription, try the lowest power (+1) first.
  • Test-drive the glasses. If you’ve brought reading material with you, try reading it at a comfortable length. (Many eyeglass displays have an eye chart, too, to test the glasses.) Try different powers until you can read clearly at a distance that’s most comfortable for you.
  • Go big the first time. While there are many styles and colors to choose from, you may want to start your reading glass journey with a bigger pair of specs. Larger lenses offer more of a “sweet spot” where the prescription is. It’s easier to use a smaller lens once you get used to wearing glasses.

If your vision continues giving you problems after adding glasses, schedule an appointment to see your optometrist or ophthalmologist. You may need a different prescription, bifocals or some other remedy.


— Optometrist Robert Engel, OD, and ophthalmologist Rishi Singh, MD.

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