Problems with Varifocals



It's not always easy with Varifocals


Unfortunately many opticians won’t mention the problems that people can have with varifocals until they come back with a problem to be told it’s normal. This is one thing that at The Village Optician we don't shy away from. Sometimes varifocals can be difficult to get used to. Our job is to let people know that it can be difficult and to help people out as much as possible so that they can actually wear varifocals and get on with them and enjoy the benefits of wearing varifocals.

I, myself, wear varifocals every day, all day. I love them and think they're great. But there are limitations... (see our separate section about limitations). If you watched our video about how varifocals work or you've read some of our literature about how varifocals work, you'll know that they gradually change the power down the lens. That creates distortions, so distortions are pushed to the sides, depending on how good the design of the lens is and how it deals with that distortion, what's in the lens to minimize that distortion.

Even a very high end, fantastic design and good quality varifocal will still have distortion. The main reason for that is it depends on your prescription. The amount of distortion does depend on your prescription. If you've got a very high prescription or very high reading power, so the change in the lens needs to be more, that will create more distortion. If you've got a very low reading power or a very weak prescription, then you're not going to have as much distortion.

When people struggle with varifocals, it’s usually what we call the swim and sway effect. This is about the bit of your vision down the sides of the lenses - sort of sitting just below your eye line to the bottom of the lens. That's the most distorted part of your vision, just there. As you move, you can get this kind of effect where the sides of your vision sway as you move.

It's a bit like if you've ever been running on a treadmill. What's weird about that is your brain knows that you're running and you're moving, but normally when you're running, the world would move past you, so it's a trick in your brain. When you stop running on a treadmill, get off the treadmill, and you move forward, your brain goes, "Whoa, hold on," and it can do this strange swaying effect with the world. It can make it feel like it's moving and make you feel a bit dizzy sometimes.

It's kind of a bit like that effect for some people in varifocals at first. You get this kind of movement if you move your head around or this back and forth kind of thing, and side to side. That's what we call swim and sway, and that can be the biggest problem when people don't get on with it. There's absolutely no way of knowing who's going to have a problem with that. The reason for that is it's all down to your brain. It's how your brain deals with these distortions, how it deals with that difference in the power, and how it deals with the fact that it's a bit weird and blurred in the sides.

Now, as I said, there are some really good varifocal designs that minimize this kind of swim and sway effect and minimize the distorted areas. The better, the varifocal design you go for, the less chance you have of this happening. You can be in the best design though, and your brain will still see it. We don't know who's going to have an issue. We don't know who's going to have a problem. This is something that we explain to everybody and our new wearers. In fact, I even explain this to existing wearers when they're changing  varifocals because if they've changed the power and the power is strong, you're going to create more distortion. You can see these effects again.

The hard thing is, and this can be a very big ask of people, but the hard thing is we know how to get through that and how to get rid of that. It's nothing that we have to do to the lens. It's nothing that we have to do to the frame fitting or anything like that. There's a lot of things with varifocals that are literally down to an adjustment in how the frame is fitting or moving the lens in the frame, all sorts of stuff like that.

But this, unfortunately, is basically going cold turkey with it. If you want to get on with that varifocal and you're experiencing this, you've just got to put them on and leave them on. Just leave them on your face. For some people, they'll get used to that in a couple of days. In the worst case scenario, we find two weeks is the sort of magic time frame. Again, we know this from experience. Unfortunately, I have over 20 years experience doing this,  (I'm showing my age) but I know for a fact that this does go away.

But I understand it's a big ask because some people they put a varifocal on and if you are experiencing this effect, it can make you feel a bit nauseous if your world's moving and shifting. But believe me, it does work. It does go away. But you've got to go cold turkey. Whether you've got it, you've got to sit through it. It's no good putting them on for an hour or two in the day, taking them off, and then doing the same again the next day and the next day and the next day, and then coming and telling the optician that you’ve worn them every day. You need that time for your brain to get used to it. So literally sticking them on first in the morning and leaving them there and your brain will sort that out. It really, honestly, will sort that out.

That's the main thing I wanted to get over in this article. It's a tricky one, because is a big ask of people to go through that if they are feeling a bit, "Ugh, I don't like this." That's the one thing where a lot of people get put off varifocals.

Worst case scenario, if you are genuinely non tolerant to the varifocal like that and you can't get used to it, then we do have a guarantee. We can swap you out of varifocals and into other glasses that will correct different parts of your vision. We never leave you with a pair of glasses which can’t be used, so you're not stuck. Experience shows us that people can get through it but you've got to go cold turkey with and stick them on your face and leave them there.

That is the big thing that can happen with varifocals. There are limitations to varifocals and it’s worth having a look at the information we have about those to help understand what you can expect from them.

Another little weird problem with varifocals sometimes, is that for some bizarre reason, the brain can't find the reading power. Especially if we've checked that everything's lined up, everything's where it should be, and the glasses measure fine. Everything's there, but for some bizarre reason, they can't read. They just can't find where to look through. This isn’t common and only effects a few wearers.

Now, one reason for this a lot of the time is to do with the tilt of the frame. If it's sitting too flat away from someone. If it's flattened away, when you look down the lens, you're looking through the wrong bit of the lens, it’s too far away from your face at the bottom of the lens and at the wrong angle. The tilt needs to match the face angle not be flat out in front of it.

One thing that is quite common when people are new to their varifocals, they think too much about where to look through. This brings on all manor of unnatural head positions, and results in looking through the wrong parts of the lenses especially for near vision.

Naturally, to read, you would just tilt your head a little bit but drop your eyes more, you’ll look through the bottom of the lens, and can then read. When you look down to read, your eyes drop more than your head. This has been researched so we know that the neck tilts by a certain amount of degrees, and the eyes tilt down by a further amount of degrees.

What you find is, because people are thinking about which bit they should look through, they then drop their chins down and end up looking through the top so they cannot find the reading area because they're not looking through the right bit, or people are just thinking far too much about where to look. If you just naturally let yourself read it, you find it. You need to not think about it!

If anyone is having issues with varifocals, my best advice is to come and sit down and talk to the team. We’ll go through it all, and see if there's anything we can do to help. We can coach you about how to use the varifocal, where to look through it, things like that, and make any changes that might need to be made in the design or position of the lens.

Nowadays, we can make just about anything in the varifocal. We can design it in certain ways. If someone's struggling to get to the reading area, we can redesign the lens and move the reading area further up for you. If someone has a bad neck and they cannot keep the head in a certain position, we can design that in. There's a lot we can do. That’s why we need to talk to you if you do experience problems. So, if you are having any issues with varifocals,  go and talk to your team that dispensed it.

 Anyway, I hope that helps you. We are always upfront about what can happen and about these problems people can have with varifocals. If we are, we tend to find that more people get on with them because people know what to expect and that many of these problems are normal.


If you want to read more about Varifocals then download our Varifocal Buying Guide here.


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