What is the difference between bifocals and progressives?

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Just like graying hair and wrinkles, presbyopia is an inevitable sign that you’re getting older. Presbyopia is the normal, gradual loss of your eyes’ ability to focus on nearby objects. Most people will start to notice presbyopia in their mid-40s. But unlike your changing hair or skin, blurred vision is much harder to live with. Thankfully, there are ways to correct the condition so that you can go about your merry day.

What are progressive lenses and how are they different from bifocals?

Progressives and bifocals both help with presbyopia, according to Mei Fleming, OD.

“Bifocal lenses have that line in the middle,” explained Dr. Fleming. “Above the line your distance vision is clear. Below the line, your near vision is clear.”
This means bifocals only cover two different distances. However, with the growth of digital devices, lenses have had to evolve to cover more of a person’s field of vision.

“With progressive lenses, the power actually progresses though the lens,” said Dr. Fleming. “It goes from distance, to intermediate, to near – seamlessly. So, it gives you the full range of clear vision.”

Unlike bifocals, progressives don’t have a visible line across the lens, which can be more visually attractive. Plus, you don’t have to carry around multiple pairs of glasses (i.e. reading, computer, distance) which can really have an impact on your lifestyle.

Watch as Dr. Fleming points out other differences between progressives and bifocals in this episode of #AskAnEyeDoc.

Be sure to consult with an eye doctor to find out whether progressives or bifocals are a good fit for you; your doctor will be able to recommend the eyewear that best meets your vision and lifestyle needs. Don’t have an eye doctor? Use our Find a Doctor tool for a quick and easy way to locate your nearest VSP network provider.

Disclaimer: Information received through VSP Vision Care’s blog and social media channels are for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, medical recommendations, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. 

39 Comments

  • David Haggerty says:

    I have trifocals and am ok with them.

  • Rosie says:

    If you think you need progressive or bifocal lenses, try measuring the distance you need to be able to see while using them BEFORE you go see your doctor, because not everyone’s computer monitor is at the same distance away as somebody else’s, and the doctor bases “computer” vision at whatever standard they use, instead of what YOU use. So, sit at your desk where you normally work, and use a tape measure or ruler to measure from the outside corner of your eye to your screen. Then measure from the outside corner of your eye to the top of your desk where you usually write on your desk. If you already wear glasses, use a Post-it note to stick to your glasses to figure out where you need your bifocal line, to be able to see above it for your monitor and below it for your desk work. I did this before I went to see my doctor, and he adjusted his instruments to those measurements BEFORE he had me look through the machine to adjust my vision. Doing that made ALL the difference in the world, and my NEW bifocals are PERFECT!

  • Josie Luby says:

    I haven’t been able to get used to my “computer glasses” which were made with the progressive lenses. Is there any special advice?

  • tina says:

    I find trifocals a lot easier to look through than progressive lenses. You have more of a range with the trifocals.

  • Janis Warner says:

    I have had cataract surgery on both eyes and have to wear readers, which I HATE! Are there contact lenses for me?

    • Angelina F. says:

      Hi Janis,
      Your eye doctor would best be able to asses what your lens options may be. If you don’t already have an eye doctor you can find one using the Find A Doctor Search on vsp.com
      Best,
      Angelina F., VSP

  • Russell Allison says:

    Why does VSP cover lined bifocals but not progressive lenses

    • Angelina F. says:

      Hi Russell,
      Coverage can vary by plan. You can view your benefits by logging in on vsp.com or contacting customer care.
      Best,
      Angelina F., VSP

  • donald malandra says:

    I had them once and they were horrible; progressives work great and are the best match for for duplicating natural eyesight.

  • Eric Striegel says:

    I had difficulty changing position rapidly with the progressive lenses, which can be dangerous when operating woodworking equipment. I have bifocals and am very pleased, I had the line moved up so I don’t have to rock my head up to read and had the focal distance changed to 24” from the normal 14” to be better able to see at arms length. If you don’t like the way your bifocals work tell them what you want and they can chenge them!

  • Esther Whittle says:

    Progressive didn’t work well for me. I have lenses implants. Work okay for folks with natural lenses, not plastic implants. I’ll stick with my bifocals of several diopters. Once fixed focal plastic prosthetics are surgically implanted progressive are a pain in the neck.

  • Luke Burnham says:

    I work on the computer all day and found that the very narrow ‘sweet spot’ for computer distances in the progressive lenses I tried just wasn’t satisfactory. I went back to single-vision lenses dedicated to computer distances and I couldn’t be happier. Everyone is different but no lens can do it all.

  • June says:

    I trip down the stairs in progressive glasses, no thank you.

  • RB says:

    I have motion sickness and was not able to adjust to the progressives. I suffered through 2 months of headaches and nausea trying to get used to them. I had to change to trifocals. They aren’t a perfect solution but at least I can see without feeling sick all of the time.

  • Sherrie Peters says:

    Thanks for explaining the difference, I appreciated it.

  • Wayne Jupiter says:

    Yes, progressive vision goes from distance to intermediate, to near. But it doesn’t extend all the way out to the sides. Also, I have trouble walking with them. If I have to look down it bothers my neck. I just can’t get comfortable with the.

  • FRANK JONES says:

    One must also understand that the brain may or may not be able to handle the progressives easily. That is true with me, so I go with bifocals.

  • Winifred Walker says:

    can you get progressive lens with contacts also

  • Marie Kelly says:

    I just got progressive and my eyes hurt when I wear them. Is that normal.

    • Angelina F. says:

      Hi Marie,
      It would be best to reach out to your eye doctor to find out if it’s part of the normal adjustment period or if something else is causing your discomfort.
      Best,
      Angelina F., VSP

  • Anthony Ridley says:

    What about having corrective eye surgery

  • Fran says:

    I had bifocals for computer and reading as my distance vision did not need much correction. My doctor convinced me to try progressives. The far and close vision are ok, but I have a lot of difficulty using the intermediate which is a big problem, as I spend a lot of time on the computer for work.

  • Richard says:

    So the “other differences” covered in the video are the same differences listed in the article.

  • I currently have progressive lens. I lost my bifocals and having another eye exam , my Dr prescribed progressive. The first day I wore them I was carrying groceries in the house and all of a sudden a floater came up in my right eye. I went back to Dr and she said that collagen had broken off in the back of my eye and that hopefully would go away. She also said I had a small cataract developing on the right eye as well . I am currently 67 yrs old and this happen almost a yr ago. I don’t know if the progressive lens caused part of the problem or not. I do know I could see much better with bifocals. The floater has still not gone away.

    • Angelina F. says:

      Hi Rodger,
      You may find this Ask An Eye Doc blog post about floaters of interest. https://vspblog.com/ask-an-eye-doc-floaters/ However, if you are experiencing symptoms that affect your vision it’s best to discuss directly with your eye doctor as we cannot provide any medical advice.
      Best,
      Angelina F., VSP

    • Rodger says:

      Thank you Angelina for your response and he valuable info you shared regarding eye floaters. I guess I better go back to the eye Dr and have this checked out.

  • Pearce says:

    Not sure about bifocals, but with progressive lenses you have to look through the center to keep things in focus. If you look to the side, things become blurry.

  • D says:

    For the first day or two I think they won’t work but they’re great after that.

  • LK says:

    Unfortunately the bottom left and right corners of progressives are 100% useless and hinder the ability to use any periphery vision when wearing your glasses. You physically need to move your head to see side to side on an 11 inch laptop screen. Why is this the case? Why can’t the entire bottom part of a progressive lens be useful?

  • Kevin says:

    I have used progressive lens for 15 plus years and although they are great for me I still struggle with the limited side to side view. A lot of turning side to side, but I’ll keep getting them.

  • Karen Goldsberry says:

    I purchased progressive lenses a year and a half ago and am not pleased with them. My viewing area is limited to a small vertical area in the middle of the lenses; thus, I have to move my head to view distance in the middle of the lenses. The rest of the lens does not allow clear vision–what I will call semi-peripheral vision. It is not only a waste of lens but also a waste of money. My optometrist tells me this is the way all glasses are made. As a child, I purchased glasses beginning in the 8th grade and could see clearly through the whole lens regardless of which part I looked though.
    How can I get glasses that have full vision within the frame?

  • R K says:

    I tried progressive & the day I got them, I walked outside of the office and threw up. Trifocals are great, easy and quicker to focus for me.

  • Jon says:

    You have to look straight through progressive lenses. You vision is distorted if you just move your eyes to look off at an angle. You have to turn your head. I have progressive lenses and they are annoying.

  • Susanne Michelsen says:

    I have progressive lenses and I have a tough time reading with them. I am about to get reading glasses. The area to read is not big enough. I even got bigger frames.

  • Debbie says:

    I love my progressive lenses! I am very, very nearsighted and the progressive lenses work for me at all distances.

  • Joyce Peters says:

    I tried wearing progressive lens and I could not get accustomed to moving my head side-to-side to see clearly. I prefer to just move my eyes and also use bifocals.

  • Paul says:

    You might want to mention that progressives are more expensive, not generally well covered by insurance and can cause dizziness. Why only mention the positive unless you are just trying to promote them to make more money.

  • Monica says:

    I like my progressive glasses, they are comfortable to use. Sometimes I don’t even know I have them on.

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