Home Health & Wellness Bifocal and Varifocal Lenses: What’s the Difference and Which is Right for You?

Bifocal and Varifocal Lenses: What’s the Difference and Which is Right for You?

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The demand for glasses has been increasing over the years, primarily driven by the growing prevalence of visual impairments. Case in point: shortsightedness is becoming increasingly common and is said to affect one out of three people in the UK alone. This is nearly double the number of short-sighted Brits recorded 50 years ago. Aside from this, other vision issues like macular degeneration and cataracts are similarly becoming more prolific. In a previous article, we also mentioned that instances of glaucoma are on the rise. As mentioned above, this has caused 77% of women and 68% of men to turn to corrective prescription eyewear, as per a recent Statista report. This demand has resulted in a wide range of lens options becoming more well-known and accessible, with two of the most popular types being bifocal lenses and varifocal lenses.

So, what exactly are these two lens types, and what differentiates them? More importantly, how does one know which type is right for them?

What are varifocal lenses?

The key feature of varifocal lenses is the presence of three different vision segments in a single lens. Being slightly more complex than bifocal lenses, it’s important to learn about varifocal lenses before considering them. The top part of the lens has a prescription for distance vision, providing clear and sharp vision for tasks such as driving or watching television. As the gaze moves downward, the power of the lens progressively changes to cater to intermediate vision needs, making it suitable for using a computer screen or reading music sheets. Finally, the lower part of the lens is designed to aid near vision, facilitating activities like reading books or checking messages on mobile devices. These lenses use a gradual change in prescription power across the lens surface, ensuring a smooth transition between the three vision segments.

Convenience is the major advantage of varifocal lenses. Unlike other lenses that require wearers to shift their eyes or heads to find the correct focal point, varifocal lenses offer a seamless experience. They also eliminate the need for wearing separate glasses for different vision needs or occasions, thereby streamlining the overall visual experience.

What are bifocal lenses?

The primary feature of bifocal lenses is their dual-prescription design, which is relatively simple but effective. Understanding the design of bifocal lenses is crucial to grasping how they address more nuanced vision concerns. These lenses consist of two distinct segments: the top portion is dedicated to distance vision, while the lower segment is reserved for near vision. The boundary between these segments is generally demarcated using a visible line, which helps wearers easily align their gaze with the appropriate section. With this clear distinction, it becomes ideal for wearers who spend a lot of time viewing two separate distances, as they will be able to focus their eyes on the correct segments accordingly.

This combination allows individuals to have clear vision both for seeing objects in the distance and performing detailed work up close without needing to switch or remove their glasses. Bifocal lenses effectively eliminate the need for multiple pairs of glasses, making them extremely convenient for those with both nearsightedness and farsightedness.

Comparing bifocals and varifocals

Both bifocal and varifocal lenses offer their own unique advantages and drawbacks, and the choice between the two depends on individual needs and preferences.

Bifocal lenses are a cost-effective and straightforward option, offering the convenience of switching between near and distant vision. However, the abrupt transition between focal lengths can cause discomfort or a sudden change in vision perception. The visible line dividing the two segments can also be aesthetically unappealing to some wearers.

On the other hand, varifocal lenses provide a more modern and seamless vision correction experience with their gradual progression of power. While offering a more natural appearance, they do come with a higher price tag. They also include considerations, such as requiring an adjustment period for wearers to become accustomed to the different focal lengths. Some may even experience distortions or peripheral blur during this period.

The decision between bifocal and varifocal lenses should be made in consultation with an eye care professional who can assess the wearer’s vision requirements and guide them towards the most suitable choice. Whether bifocals or varifocals, it is essential to prioritise vision health and select the lenses that provide the best clarity and comfort for daily activities.




Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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