multifocal-contact-lensesApparently 50 is the new 40! This is not just a glib media slogan but reflects a growing demographic and cultural change in many countries where the population is ageing but people are healthier and more active than ever before. While we are looking and feeling younger even as we reach the big 50 and beyond, one thing we cannot change is the ageing process of the eye, and most people can expect to develop presbyopia at some point (the eye condition corrected using multifocal and bifocal lenses).

Consumers unaware of the choice

Fortunately contact lens manufacturers have come to the rescue and multifocal lenses are the big story of the last few years. There have been some big technological advancements too, so now there is a large range of different types of lenses to choose from. However, many consumers are still unaware that multifocal and bifocal lenses could be a great option and that there is a lot of choice.

In fact, consumer research has shown that thanks to the baby boom generation, people suffering from the age-related eye condition presbyopia will become the largest group of contact lens wearers by the year 20181. In the past, the multifocal and bifocal contact lens sector has been something of a neglected area and has been one reason why people stopped using contact lenses as they get older. But this is all changing, especially thanks to improved technology and thus better lenses, and a high quality of vision.

What is presbyopia?

In short, presbyopia is the name for a common age-related eye condition where the lens inside the eye loses its ability to focus on objects at all the different ranges from near to far. People may experience presbyopia as difficulty in reading small print, eyestrain or then it may be momentarily difficult to focus on objects at different distances. The classic example is of having to hold something, such as a menu or newspaper, at a distance to read it properly.

What types of multifocal and bifocal lenses are available?

If you have a recent diagnosis of presbyopia or contact lenses are new to you, some basic information can help you decide what might be the best option. There are two main types of contact lens: soft lenses and gas permeable lenses (which are sometimes referred to as rigid lenses and are also known by the abbreviation RGP or GP lenses), and multifocal lenses are available in both types.

Soft contact lenses

The vast majority of contact lenses sold are soft lenses, which means they are made from a soft hydrogel and are comfortable to wear. In recent years, a new generation of soft lenses made from silicone hydrogel have been introduced, which allow even higher amounts of oxygen to reach the eye, which is a key aspect of comfort and good eye health.

Rigid or gas permeable lenses

Gas permeable lenses are slightly smaller than soft contact lenses and because they are made from a more durable type of plastic than soft contact lenses and require an initial period of getting used to. The market for these types of lenses is smaller but some eye care professionals like to prescribe them because they also let in high levels of oxygen and can be a good option for some people who have astigmatism.

How do multifocal and bifocal lenses work?

Multifocal and bifocal lenses basically come in three different types of designs: a concentric design, simultaneous design and alternating design. Concentric multifocal or bifocal lenses have an area for correcting either near or distance vision at their centre and, as the name suggests, this is surrounded by either one or more concentric rings at different powers. If the inner area corrects near vision, the surrounding ring will correct distance vision and vice versa.

An alternating design works in a similar way to bifocal spectacles where the lower part corrects near vision and the upper part corrects distance vision. Alternating design contact lenses are mainly available as rigid gas permeable contact lenses and so are less common.

Simultaneous design lenses (also referred to as aspheric design or progressive lenses) are the most common form of multifocal contact lenses. In this type of lens the near and distance corrective powers are ‘blended’ together and appear in front of the pupil simultaneously.

The new range in lenses is changing the way eye care professionals correct presbyopia using contact lenses because in the past a practice called monovision was used where one eye is corrected for distance vision and the other corrected near vision. The new advancements in lenses means this is not the only or preferred way to correct presbyopia these days.

What is the choice of brands?

Nowadays, consumers have a large choice in the range of multifocal contact lenses since all the main manufacturers, CooperVision, Johnson & Johnson, Ciba Vision and Bausch & Lomb, all produce a variety of lenses under top selling brands such as Acuvue Bifocal, Air Optix Aqua Multifocal, Proclear Multifocal and PureVision Multifocal. The new generation of multifocal lenses also includes the flexibility and convenience of daily disposable multifocal lenses.

The different brands are all made from different materials and have different designs so you will need to seek the advice of your eye care practitioner before deciding on which lens is right for you. Getting used to them may take a little longer than with ordinary lenses but the improvement in vision will be worth the effort. Remember too that our price comparison checks the prices of several leading online contact lens retailers, so you will find the best price if you check our comparison frequently.


1 Studebaker J. Soft multifocals: Practice growth opportunity. Contact Lens Spectrum; June 2009.