What Are Progressive Lenses, and Are They Right for You?


Progressive lenses are one of the most complex lenses on the market. This often leaves the patient begging to know the difference between brands and designs.

What all progressive lenses have in common is a distance section towards the top of the lens, a reading section towards the bottom nasal area of the lens, and connecting these two is an intermediate corridor. On either side of the corridor are blending zones.

Some lenses have larger reading or intermediate zones, while others have a much softer blending zone resulting in less peripheral distortion. Each designer has their trade mark “design.” 

Let’s look at what makes some of these lenses so different.

Hard vs Soft Progressive Lenses


There are two main categories for progressive lens design. These are hard and soft designs. This refers to the amount of blur that is located in the peripheral blending zones. The front of a progressive lens consists of a complex series of curves. These curves are blended at the least used section of the lens, the peripheral and nasal.

Hard lenses have a much higher concentration of blending in these zones. This allows for a much clearer distance and reading but can give the wearer an intense ‘swimming’ feeling.

Later lens designers reduced the harshness of hard lens designs by creating soft lenses. These lenses increase the blending zones. This spreads them out into the distance and reading portion of the lens. People who tend to be very active in their lenses can appreciate the reduced swimming feeling.

Today, lens designers are taking into consideration that neither hard nor soft design is ideal. Myopes and hyperopes have different needs.

For instance, a myopic person (nearsighted) does not need a large reading area however the wearer is more sensitive to distortion in the distance. A design with a softer distance and a harder near design would be ideal.

A hyperopic person (farsighted) has the opposite needs. Hyperopes are not as sensitive to distortion in the distance but need a larger reading zone. In this case, a harder design is used for distance with softer for the reading area.

In addition to the above designs is something called a variable inset. This refers to how far the reading segment is placed nasally. The minifying nature of a minus or diverging lens used for the correction of Myopia means that the wearer does not need to converge their eyes as much. Wear as the magnifying nature of a plus or converging lens used for the correction of Hyperopia means that additional convergence is needed so the reading segment is placed more nasally than for a myope.

Choosing the Ideal Progressive Lens Corridor Length

It used to be that larger eye sizes were all the rage but times have changed. The older progressive lenses just did not fit in the smaller modern styles. To remedy this, American Optical introduced the first short corridor progressive lens called the AO Compact.

The idea was to shorten the distance between the distance and reading sections of the lens. This would allow the lens to fit in many of today’s smaller styles. The one drawback is that the power change is much more immediate due to the shortened corridor.

You may be wondering “So, how do I know what lens is right for me?” Well, your optician will often employ a technique called lifestyle dispensing. This is where the optician will ask you questions about your work, hobbies, etc. to try and determine your visual needs. From this, he or she will determine which lens would be best based on what they have available. 

You may also wonder “How does my doctor’s office determine which lenses they use?” All lens manufacturers have the same basic designs: a short corridor, basic design, premium design etc. But as with most businesses, offices will typically choose a company that will give them the best deal and warranty.

The Future of Progressive Lenses

New lenses are constantly being designed. Lens makers spend millions each year on research and development to create a lens that can mimic natural vision. There are lenses with significantly large reading areas for bookworms or progressive lenses designed specifically for computer use to help combat computer vision syndrome.

Today, lens designers are introducing progressives that are designed for your specific individual needs. Your doctor or optician will sit you down in front of a machine that measures your eye movements and incorporates this into your lenses.

If you are a progressive lens dropout, you might want to take another crack at trying these lenses. They just get better and better as time goes on.