Over-The-Counter-Readers: are they bad for your eyes?

By Chris Faul OD

The short answer is: Ready Readers cannot damage one’s eyes. However, there are a number of factors at play which are important to note.

As we get older (from about 40 years), our eyes lose their focusing ability and we start to have difficulty keeping things in focus up close. We have to hold things further away to see. Here is the potential problem. The incidence of ocular pathology also increases after the age of forty. Some potentially serious sight threatening ocular diseases are asymptomatic (you won’t know you have it), such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. By the time one becomes aware that something is wrong, irreversible damage could have occurred. Early diagnosis of these conditions can easily be picked up by an Eye Care Professional during a routine eye examination and can be treated.

It is usually the need to get help with near vision that convinces us to go for an eye examination, which presents the opportunity for early diagnosis of ocular pathology. Buying Ready Readers over the counter, allows us to circumvent this routine eye examination and this may well be at our own peril.

When spectacles are made up, the lenses are set up so that the optical centres of the lenses coincide with the pupils – this is not happening with Ready Readers and can cause prismatic effect, which will result in visual discomfort. Ready Readers also do not correct astigmatism which is a big short coming. Moreover, our two eyes are not always the same and may require different strength lenses. This is not catered for with Ready Readers. The choice of frame and fit of the glasses are important considerations, which can cause problems if not taken care of professionally. Lastly, Ready Readers has an optimal focus at a particular distance, which can be troublesome in providing functional vision with different activities we engage in during the course of the day. There are many sophisticated options the optometrist can offer to provide the best comfortable and functional vision.

Government Gazette Notice to Over the Counter Retailers

Reproduced by Sabinet Online in terms of Government Printer’s Copyright Authority No. 1050dated 02 February 1998 STAATSKOERANT, 5 APRiL 2007 No.29748 

Ready readers may only be sold over the counter, provided that such assistive visual devices - 

  1. (a)  must be limited to single-vision moulded lenses of equal power right and left in the range +1.00 to +3.00 dioptres; and 

  2. (b)  must only be supplied with the following warning attached to them and also displayed in close proximity to where the glasses are offered for sale, in order to make the public aware of "silent" pathology: 


"Diseases causing blindness can be detected only by having a regular, professional eye examination. These reading glasses are only for short- term use by persons over the age of 40 years and are not suitable for driving purposes."