Picking up your new glasses should be a pleasant and often exciting event. But what happens if they don’t feel quite right?
This post looks at the various reasons why you may experience some difficulties adjusting to your new glasses, when to worry and what to do about it.
The art of adaptation
Your brain likes things to stay the same. If something changes, your brain has to adapt in a process called neural adaptation. New nerve fibres (neurons) are laid down and, after a period of usage, they become hardwired in. The length of time it takes for neural adaptation depends on a number of factors including the amount of change, your personality type and your exposure to the change.
Some people can handle a significant change to their glasses prescription and not bat an eyelid when they pick up their new eye wear. Others find even a small change a little strange at first. This is more likely to occur with multifocal lenses, especially if it’s your first pair or if the lens design has been changed.
If you’re a perfectionist in general, you’re likely to be no different when it comes to your new eye wear.
But, the fact is, the vast majority of people will quickly adapt to their new glasses and this usually only takes a couple of days.
For the quickest adaptation to your new glasses, commit to them fully for at least a week. It takes longer to adapt to change if you just wear them now and then, or revert back to your old comfy ones as soon as your notice that something doesn’t feel quite right.
What to expect with new glasses
While most new glasses just feel vaguely 'different', there are a number of ways your new eye wear can affect you more significantly:
- Problems with depth perception – this is the ability to judge how far away something is. This is to be expected with new glasses, especially with a significant change in prescription of lens design, but stay safe. If you’re having trouble with judging distance, avoid driving or operating machinery in your new glasses. If necessary, revert to your old glasses for driving and wear the new ones the rest of the time.
- Distortion – this is the fishbowl effect, where it looks as if a pen will roll off a table you know is actually flat. This is more common with new corrections for astigmatism and with frames with a high wrap design. You may feel a little off balance or even dizzy. If this persists more than a couple of days of full-time wear, get in touch with your optometrist.
- Eye strain – this is the sensation of the eyes having to work hard. This is definitely one to look out for as it can indicate a problem with the centration of the new lenses. If it hasn’t fully settled down with full-time wear by about two weeks, there may be a problem. Eyestrain severe enough to cause a headache should be reported to your dispenser / optometrist immediately.
Same, same but different…
A comment we often get from clients is that their new glasses feel different even though the prescription is exactly the same as their old glasses. How is this possible?
While it is possible that an error managed to make it past all the checks and measure, the more likely scenario is that the lenses are positioned slightly differently in front of your eyes. This can be due to the shape of the frame, the ‘wrap’ of the frame – i.e. how much it wraps around your face – and the distance from the back of the lenses to your eyes.
All these factors (and more) slightly affect the optics of the lenses, even though the prescription is the same. This effect is more pronounced with higher prescriptions. For example, if your prescription is around -1.50 with not much astigmatism, the optics of the lenses will be virtually identical, no matter what the frame shape. Once you get up to -5 or higher, or astigmatism over -3, a different frame can feel a bit weird, optically, for the first few days.
But the good news is that your brain will adapt to the new optics given a few days. This neural adaptation is quicker if you stick to the new pair as much as possible for several days, rather than reverting to a ‘comfy’ pair and just trying the new ones now and then.
More good news. Most labs can now compensate the lens power to neutralise any optical effects due to the frame. This is usually limited to branded (higher-end) multifocal lenses and it requires the dispenser who measures you up for your new glasses to provide some important measurements in addition to the prescription provided by your optometrist.
Single vision lenses are generally not compensated at the lens lab, but, especially in very high prescriptions, a good dispenser will take these measurements and make the appropriate adjustments before ordering the lenses. These additional measurements relate to the distance from the back of the lens to your eye (the vertex distance), the angle of vertical slope of the lens (pantoscopic tilt) and the angle of frame wrap.
If it’s just not settling down…
Okay. You’ve worn your new glasses for a solid week and things are still not quite right. It is possible that there is an error with the new glasses. Significant errors are rare but cause lots of problems, from headaches and eye strain to unsteadiness. If you experience these symptoms, even during the first few days of adjusting to your new glasses, let your optometrist know. Your safety is the priority.
If the prescription is checked and it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be, then what?
The first thing is that the optometrist may retest your eyes. Optometrists rarely make a mistake in prescribing glasses but it is possible. It's also possible that the dispenser or lab has made an error that has slipped through.
Some other reasons for needing to change the prescription are:
- If you’re a diabetic, your prescription may be fluctuating and need to be changed. This may require a couple of tests to find something that works well most of the time.
- If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, the hormonal changes in your body can also affect your prescription – especially if there’s a lag between the eye test and picking up your new glasses.
- Introducing multifocals for the first time or incorporating a new correction for astigmatism into your prescription may be too much for some people to adapt to. It’s rare that you would need to go back to your old prescription, but it’s not unusual for an optometrist to modify their findings and prescribe slightly less power (or less change) to make the new lenses more comfortable to adjust to.
- The distance between your eyes is called the 'pupillary distance' and is very important for lenses to feel comfortable – especially with higher powers. Your dispenser will measure this carefully when you are choosing your new glasses. For multifocals in particular, the centre of the lenses must be aligned with the centre of your eyes. Sometimes, you may have adapted to incorrectly centred lenses for many years. E.g. the distance between your eyes is 64 mm but for the past five years you’ve been wearing a pair of glasses centred at 70 mm and your eyes have adjusted to this. If you now get a new pair with the correct centration, you may have trouble adjusting to them. With very high prescriptions, you may not adapt to them at all, and have to have the lenses remade with the old, comfy centration.
Do I have to pay if my lenses are changed?
Not usually. The prescribing and dispensing of glasses are closely linked. If you get your glasses where you had your eye test, it is usually very straightforward to get a replacement under warranty if you have to have your lenses changed because you’re not adapting to them, even if they are made up correctly. (Faulty glasses made up incorrectly are replaced free of charge).
It gets more complicated if you bring your prescription to another practice for glasses. Ultimately if you don’t adjust to your new glasses, it can be hard to determine who is responsible for replacing the glasses under warranty. The dispenser may say: 'this is what you asked for and this is what we've provided.'
For this reason, we always recommend you have your prescription checked at the same place as you are having your glasses made up. Even a quick check can save hassles down the track. This puts you in a much better position if you have trouble adjusting to your new eye wear.
Keep expectations realistic
We recently wrote about how one pair of glasses cannot do everything, just as one pair of shoes can't do everything. Make sure you're wearing the right glasses for the task. This is something to discuss when you are choosing your new eye wear.
Take home messages
- Most new glasses – even with a repeat prescription, take a few days to get used to.
- This can be up to two weeks for big changes in prescription, first-time multifocals or first-time wearers.
- Wear your new glasses as much as possible during the adjustment period. And don’t chop and change with your old ones! (Put them away and leave them there until you fully adjust to the new ones).
- If you are experiencing distortion or problems with depth perception, avoid driving in the new glasses and contact your optometrist.
- If you are getting new headaches from your new glasses, contact your optometrist within 2-3 days.
- Get your prescription checked where you are buying your glasses.