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Ask the Expert: It’s getting harder to read fine print

Answers provided by Dr. Mitchell Gossman, M.D., ophthalmologist at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota, St. Cloud

I just got my first pair of reading glasses because it has been harder to read fine print. Is this going to get worse?

Yes… But don’t worry, it’s not going to keep getting worse for the rest of your life.

The condition that occurs in middle age which makes it more difficult to read is called “presbyopia.” As an aside, this is an interesting word. Many words are derived from Latin and Greek, but normally the word has only Latin roots or Greek roots. “Presbyopia” has the Greek root “presbus” meaning “old” and the Greek “opia” meaning “eye.” This Latin and Greek hybrid word therefore means “old eyes.” Seems harsh, doesn’t it?

Reading glasses move the focus point closer to the eye, making things that had been blurry readable again. Stock photo

The eye is like a camera in that not only does it have a lens and the retina (which is like the film or image sensor in a camera), the human lens has the capability to focus up close. Anyone who’s used a camera knows that the focusing capability only goes so far, so when you focus at something that’s too close, the camera can’t make a focused image and you must move the object farther away. As the lens in your eye ages, it very gradually over the years loses its ability to focus closer. When you’re five years old, your eye has a tremendous capability indeed to focus up very close, as you can see when a young child holds a toy extremely close and still can focus on it.

So, as you get older, how close you can hold an object, such as a book or cellphone, gets further and further away. Up until about age 40 or so this doesn’t present too much of a problem because you can still focus up to about 14 inches at that age and our world’s written information is generally at a print size that can be read at about 14 inches. As you age beyond 40, this “near point” continues to get further away, and this is when you will see (or you will observe others) that it’s necessary to hold things farther away.

Eventually, this gets to the point where things must be held so far away that you can’t see the details. This is where reading glasses come in. If you purchase a pair of reading glasses, this moves that near focus point closer, and presto, you can read again. That’s not the end of the story -- the condition continues to get worse again over the years, and eventually the +1.50 power reading glasses won’t cut it, and you’ll find that you can see again with +2.00 reading glasses. Fortunately, this stops getting worse at about age 55-60 and the power of readers needed stops getting worse at about +2.50. This is oversimplified of course, determining the best glasses for you is the job of an eye doctor or, in the case of reading glasses, an optician can help.

But there’s a problem. Would you go to a pharmacy and treat your painful, infected finger with an over-the-counter ointment? Of course not, you’d go see a doctor first. The main problem with reading glasses is that while they do have a place in improving reading, you have missed out on an eye exam to determine that the eyes are healthy, so it’s recommended to see an eye doctor right after getting those readers.

Find Out More

Dr. Mitchell Gossman, ophthalmologist at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota, can diagnose and treat cataracts. The office is located at 628 Roosevelt Road, Suite 101, in St. Cloud. To make an appointment or to learn more, call 320-774-3789 or email

“Ask the Expert” is sponsored content (paid advertising) provided by Eye Associates of Central Minnesota. To learn how your business can promote its products and services like this, contact Sr. Perspective.

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