Are your arms not long enough anymore?

In this particular episode of Ask an Eye Doc, you will learn:

  • Why you’ve lost your ability to focus up close
  • What can be done about it
If you find this episode to be helpful, please leave a 5-star review on iTunes at or you can help support the show by going to
If you have another question about focusing or any other eye-related question, go to to be featured on Ask an Eye Doc!

For you readers out there, here’s the answer in written form:

This is a common question that eventually hits every human being, usually around the age of 40… and it usually hits hard and suddenly. One day you’re eyes work just like they always have, and all of a sudden your vision is a total blur up close…

You’ve become a PRESBYOPE!

The “P” word

Presbyopes are people who suffer from the age-old condition of presbyopia. “Presby-“ meaning “old”, and “-opia” meaning “eye”. No, you’re not old (40 is the new whatever, right?), you just have more life experience than everyone else!

So why is it that people end up needing a prescription for reading things up close?

The crystalline lens: your eye’s autofocus

Well, there’s a clear focusing lens that sits right behind the iris, the colored part of your eye. It’s about the same size and shape as an M&M.

This lens is surrounded by a circular muscle which controls the thickness of the lens allowing you to see clearly at different distances. It’s like autofocus on a camera. When you look at something up close, your eye muscles automatically kick in, making the lens thicker and set for near vision. When you look far away, your eye muscles relax and the lens gets thinner again, setting your eye for far vision.

When you were a small child, your focusing lenses were very flexible, which meant you could hold things very close to your face. (Have you every watched a baby holding and looking at a small toy?)

As you get older your focusing lenses slowly get less and less flexible, and you have to hold things farther and farther from your face to keep it in focus.

At a certain point (usually around age 40), you can no longer comfortably see at the reading distance that you prefer, no matter how hard you use your focusing muscles. This results in blurry near vision, eyestrain and fatigue… and wishing that you had longer arms.

What to do

If it’s been over a year since your last eye exam, this is the time when you schedule an appointment with your optometrist. He or she will offer you a reading prescription, which will do the focusing for you, so you can have clear vision and relaxed eye muscles when looking at things up close.

Since I’ve already been the bearer of bad news, I’ll go ahead and mention that your lenses will still continue to harden over the next 25 years or so, meaning you’ll need to get several prescription updates along the way. By the time you are around age 65 you will have maxed out your reading prescription.

Have fun with it

Hopefully, this answers your question (and doesn’t make you too depressed). The good news is you’re not alone. You are joining the ever increasing group of presbyopes (over 120 million in the US!), so embrace your new old eyes and have fun with it! Get a fun pair of glasses, or experiment with contact lenses.



If you found this episode to be helpful, be sure to leave a 5-star review on iTunes by going to or you can support the show at
If you have another question about near vision focus or aging eyes or any other eye-related question, go to to be featured on Ask an Eye Doc.
AAED 4: Why can’t I see up close anymore?
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