Archive for Monday, October 29, 2001

Seeing into the future with new eyeglasses

October 29, 2001


"This one or this one?"

The optometrist continued to click through a series of lenses as I peered through the holes in the device in his office.

Squinting to focus on the chart across the room, I noticed a few things.

One was that, as I've aged, it's a little more difficult to switch my focus from near to far.

Secondly, a "2," a "W" and an "E" look a lot alike, especially when they're blurry.

And three, it seems like the word "bifocals" keeps popping up every time I get my eyes checked.

Death, taxes and presbyopia

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Presbyopia, or the hardening of the crystalline lens in your eye, is almost inevitable.

It's why most people, starting in their late 30s to mid-40s, have to eventually buy reading glasses or hold the sports section at arm's length to grimace at the point spread on the Kansas-Nebraska game.

And for people who have been wearing glasses or contacts for most of their lives, presbyopia presents complications.

I remember growing up seeing relatives with bottle-thick lenses and little bifocal windows at the bottom. And I've been dreading bifocals ever since.

But technology has come a long way.

One word plastics

Plastic lenses have been around since the 1950s. But they didn't really take hold until the mid-1980s, when they began to overtake glass lenses.

The plastics, plus the use of lightweight frames such as titanium, have made glasses lighter, flexible and less of a burden to wear. Polycarbonate plastic lenses provide greater resistance to impact, plus they're thinner and lighter than plastic.

And over the years, lens researchers have come up with help for those who wear glasses and have trouble seeing near and far.

Not only are bifocals and trifocals available, but you can also get progressive addition lenses often referred to as "no-line" bifocals. All three types have an added power in the lower area of the glasses for reading.

One of the reasons progressives are popular is because they have a gradual change in the prescription strength, so you don't see the noticeable lines that come with bifocals or trifocals.

But they do have their drawbacks. You need to prepare to bob and weave your neck until you line up to the exact viewing spot on the lens.

And if you spend a lot of time on a computer, look for special computer lenses to improve your mid-range vision. The computer lenses can help you focus on a paper in front of you, then back to the screen.

They're also supposed to help deal with what is known as computer vision syndrome, which includes blurry vision, neck aches, double vision and eye irritation.

You can learn more about computer vision syndrome at It's a site that was developed by the chief of the computer eye clinic at Berkeley School of Optometry at the University of California.

Seeing into the future

In three to four years, we could be seeing something entirely new in eyewear for the presbyobes among us glasses that automatically focus for you.

Optical scientists at the University of Arizona are working to bring the same type of autofocus used on cameras to eyeglasses.

Such lenses would use material that hasn't been developed yet "electroactive materials and microcomputer programmable, adaptive lenses that would use minuscule battery-supplied voltages to instantly change refractive power at many tiny points, or pixels, across the lenses," according to a UA press release.

Like an autofocus camera, such eyeglasses would shoot an infrared beam at an object. The microprocessor would calculate how to bring it all into focus.

After the UA scientists figure out how to make autofocus eyeglasses work, they'll still have to make them look good enough for people to wear.

Framing it up

Several members of my family have been after me to trade in my old frames for some newer, sleeker ones.

"What is it with old guys and big glasses?" David Letterman said from my TV set a few nights ago.

He showed pictures of announcer Ed McMahon, evangelist Jim Baker and even Carol Channing sporting huge windshields.

The audience laughed.

I looked over at my wife as she smiled in an "I -told-you-so" way.

That's the real reason I was in getting my eyes checked.

When the optometrist was done, he told me I still don't need bifocals. Thanks to my myopia, or nearsightedness, I just need to take my glasses off when I read something up close.

I took my prescription down to an eyeglass salesman. He showed me dozens of frames. And he was careful to let me know which celebrities wore which kinds.

All I really cared about was getting smaller lenses. But, hey, if it means I'll also be able to see like Michael Jordan, so much the better.

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