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Definition of Over-The-Counter (OTC) reading glasses

Over-the-counter (OTC) reading glasses are regulated by the FDA and are designed for people who need help with near vision due to presbyopia (Presbyopia is the gradual loss of the eye's ability to focus on close objects due to aging). These glasses are available without a prescription and typically have a positive Sphere value, indicating magnification power, but no Cylinder correction for astigmatism (Astigmatism is an eye condition that causes blurry or distorted vision due to an irregularly shaped cornea or lens). This means they are intended to aid in reading and other close-up tasks without the need for customized vision correction provided by a prescription lens​ (FDA)​​ (The Vision Council)​.

Understanding Sphere and Cylinder in Eyeglass Prescriptions

Sphere (SPH):

  • The sphere value in an eyeglass prescription indicates the lens's power, measured in diopters (D), (Presbyopia) referred to as age-related farsightedness, hampers your clear vision of nearby objects, while (myopia) to correct nearsightedness and (hyperopia) farsightedness.
  • A positive sphere value (+) indicates the lens is designed to correct farsightedness. This is typical for reading glasses as they help focus on close-up tasks.
  • OTC reading glasses generally have only a sphere value, ranging from +1.00D to +3.50D, making them suitable for individuals needing assistance with near-vision tasks like reading or computer.

Cylinder (CYL):

  • The cylinder value measures the lens's power needed to correct astigmatism, which is a condition where the eye's cornea has an irregular shape, causing blurred or distorted vision.
  • The cylinder value can be either positive (+) or negative (-), and it indicates the amount of astigmatism correction needed.
  • OTC reading glasses do not have a cylinder correction (CYL value of 0.00) because they are designed for individuals who do not have astigmatism or have a negligible amount of it.

Understanding The Strength of Over-The-Counter (OTC) reading glasses

The strength of over-the-counter (OTC) reading glasses is technically defined by the lens power, which is measured in diopters (D). This measurement indicates the degree of magnification provided by the lenses to aid near vision, particularly for tasks such as reading.

Technical Definition

Diopter (D):

  • A unit of measurement for the optical power of a lens.
  • It represents the reciprocal of the focal length in meters (1 diopter = 1/focal length in meters).
  • Positive diopters (+) are used for lenses that correct farsightedness (hyperopia) and presbyopia, where the focal length is positive, bringing close objects into focus.

Strength in OTC Reading Glasses

  • Typical Range: OTC reading glasses are usually available in strengths ranging from +1.00D to +3.50D, increasing in increments of +0.25D or +0.50D.
  • Purpose: These strengths correspond to the lens's ability to magnify objects, aiding those with presbyopia by improving near-vision clarity.

In addition to the technical definition of lens power measured in diopters, it's important to note that over-the-counter (OTC) reading glasses typically have a straightforward prescription. The strength of these glasses is simply a positive sphere with Plano cylinder. In optometric terms, a Plano cylinder means there is no astigmatism correction present in the lenses. This simple prescription focuses solely on magnification for near vision tasks, such as reading. So, when you see a pair of OTC reading glasses labeled with a strength like +2.00D, it indicates a purely magnifying lens with no correction for astigmatism.


Why OTC Reading Glasses Have Only a Plus Sphere and No Cylinder Correction

  1. Simplicity and Accessibility:
  • OTC reading glasses are mass-produced with standard magnification levels (plus sphere) to be easily accessible and affordable. They are intended for people with presbyopia (age-related near vision loss) who do not require custom lens corrections.
  • The absence of cylinder correction (no astigmatism correction) simplifies production and allows these glasses to be sold without a prescription, making them widely available in stores and online.


  1. Common Usage:
  • Most people who use OTC reading glasses need help with close-up tasks like reading, sewing, or using a computer. These activities typically require a positive sphere power to magnify near objects.
  • Individuals with significant astigmatism or other complex vision issues usually need prescription glasses with customized sphere and cylinder values tailored to their specific needs, which OTC reading glasses do not provide.


  1. Regulatory Standards:
  • Regulatory bodies like the FDA in the United States classify OTC reading glasses as Class I medical devices that do not require a prescription. These glasses must meet specific safety and labeling standards but are not customized for individual prescriptions that include cylinder corrections.

What Are OTC Bifocal Reading Glasses?

Bifocal reading glasses have lenses with two distinct optical powers:

  1. Upper Portion: Typically designed for distance or intermediate vision with zero power on the top
  2. Lower Portion: Designed for near-vision tasks, such as reading or working on a computer.

These glasses allow users to switch between reading and other tasks without needing to change eyewear.

Characteristics of OTC Bifocal Reading Glasses

  1. Pre-Made Lens Strengths:
    • OTC bifocal reading glasses come with standard lens powers (diopters) and do not require a prescription. Common diopter strengths for the reading segment range from +1.00 to +3.50.
    • The upper segment usually has no magnification (Plano) or a weaker magnification compared to the lower segment.
  2. Designs and Styles:
    • Available in various frame styles, materials, and lens shapes to suit personal preferences.
    • Some models feature a flat-top design, where the bifocal segment is a small rectangular area at the bottom of the lens.
  3. Usage:
    • Ideal for individuals with presbyopia who need help seeing clearly at different distances.
    • Commonly used for reading, computer work, and everyday tasks requiring both near and far vision.


What Are Progressive Reading Glasses?

Progressive reading glasses feature lenses with a gradient of increasing lens power, offering a more natural vision correction compared to traditional bifocal or trifocal lenses. The lens power gradually changes from the top (least magnification for distance) to the bottom (most magnification for near tasks), without any visible lines between the different zones.


Characteristics of OTC Progressive Reading Glasses

  1. Gradual Power Transition:
    • These glasses provide a smooth, continuous transition between different focal points, which can make activities like reading, computer work, and interacting at different distances more comfortable.
    • Unlike bifocals, there are no distinct lines on the lenses, which improves aesthetic appeal and reduces abrupt changes in vision.
  2. Standard Lens Powers:
    • Available in standard magnification strengths for the reading portion, typically ranging from +1.00 to +3.50 diopters.
    • The intermediate and distance portions are designed with a gradual increase from the reading power, making them suitable for general use without a prescription.