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Everything You Need to Know About Varifocal Contact Lenses

The world of varifocal contact lenses can be rather overwhelming -  and that’s an understatement! But fear not, you are in the perfect place to find out everything you need to know. Get ready for the simplest possible breakdown of bifocals, trifocals and varifocals.


Bifocal Contact Lenses

So first up are bifocals. Essentially, these consist of two prescriptions, usually with long distance at the top, and short distance at the bottom. The two sections are distinguished by a line through the centre of the lens. Your eye simply has to look down to read material a short distance away, and look up to see what’s further from you.


The bifocal contact lens is commonly used by those who suffer from presbyopia. This is a very common, age-related problem, that’s actually starting in people younger and younger. It occurs when the lenses in the eye become less flexible over time. As a result, people struggle to read small print up close, an issue wittily referred to as “short arms”. People find that their arms are not long enough to hold the text at a distance they can read from. If left unaddressed, presbyopia can lead to headaches, tiredness and eye-strain. Bifocal contact lenses offer the ideal solution. They allow wearers to clearly see things on the horizon, then check tiny text just below their nose.

The benefits of bifocals are

  • Cost effective

  • Help fight presbyopia

  • Varifocal contact lenses for myopia in children (near-sightedness) are a good solution

  • Offer a wide field of vision

  • Available in soft and rigid gas permeable materials

  • They are available as daily varifocal contact lenses, or as monthly lenses


Trifocal Contact Lenses

Next up are trifocals. Basically bifocals, but with an extra prescription power sandwiched between the short and long distance sections. This type of contact lens therefore provides clarity at short, mid and long distances. One thing worth noting is that trifocals, like bifocals, feature visible lines that separate each prescription power. 


Varifocal Contact Lenses

Now for the nitty-gritty of varifocals. The key difference between varifocals and the two previous types of contact lens, is that varifocals change prescription seamlessly. There is a smooth transition between prescription powers, with no definitive line. How? - you might ask. The answer: simultaneous vision. This means that wearers can see both long and short distance at the same time. The human vision system learns to select the appropriate prescription through the lens, depending on the desired distance at the time.


There are two ways that varifocal contact lenses are designed: concentric ring design, and aspheric design.


Concentric ring design

Concentric ring design involves a central circular prescription lens, and alternating rings that surround the central point. The eye then alternates between the rings to see at different distances. There can be multiple layers of rings, two of which are usually within the pupil’s range. This range varies as the pupil contracts and dilutes according to the levels of light.


The concentric ring lenses are available in both soft and hard gas permeable materials. However, the location of the prescription will vary according to the material. A hard or rigid gas permeable lens features the long distance prescription in the central point of the lens. This is referred to as the centre-distance. A soft contact lens will comparatively place the short sighted prescription in the centre of the lens. In this case, the prescription is known as the centre-near. It is also possible to have a central near-sighted prescription in the dominant eye, and a long-sighted centre for its non-dominant counterpart.


Aspheric design

Aspheric design is similar to progressive lenses in glasses, where the various prescriptions merge across a single lens. However, in the case of contact lenses, the eye must train itself to choose the correct prescription for the distance. 


Notes to bear in mind:


It can take time to adapt to varifocal contact lenses, and problems can arise while you’re getting used to them. Here are some to look out for:


  • Nighttime glare 

  • Hazy or shadowed vision early on in the adjustment process

  • The need to switch between different viewing areas

  • The higher cost of varifocal contact lenses compared to standard ones. This is owing to the more complex prescriptions and attention to detail when fitting them.

  • It can take around two weeks for the brain to fully adjust to the new viewpoint. The best way to get used to varifocals is to wear them consistently.

  • You may feel overly aware of the lenses, but this usually clears up after a few days. 

  • If you have trouble inserting and removing the lenses, our top tip is that practice makes perfect! You can also see our guide to inserting contact lenses here.

If discomfort persists, we strongly advise that you see your optician, or chat to our online optician here.


The Benefits of Varifocal Contact Lenses


You will no doubt be pleased to hear that varifocal contact lenses are available for varying wearing times: daily, monthly, etc. There are also options between soft and rigid designs, to suit your personal preference. 


A key benefit is that you can get varifocal contact lenses for astigmatism. This is a type of refractive error, meaning that the eye does not focus light evenly on the retina. This can lead to distorted or blurred vision at any distance. Eyestrain, headaches, and trouble driving at night are a few unwelcome side-effects. 

Before the innovation of varifocals, those with astigmatism would reach an average age of forty and develop presbyopia too. This led to a tricky decision: opt for wearing reading glasses on top of contact lenses, or wear hard bifocal contact lenses. Not everyone wants to carry around reading glasses. Many are opposed to hard contacts, owing to the difficulty of getting used to them. This left victims of both astigmatism and presbyopia with quite a dilemma. 


Thanks to the technology behind varifocal contact lenses, toric multifocal lenses have emerged as the ultimate solution to both problems. Toric lenses are available in both concentric ring design, and the more progressive aspheric design. And of course, toric lenses come in either soft or rigid gas permeable materials.


Other options:


It is also worth considering monovision. This involves a single vision lens on one eye, and a varifocal lens on the other. 


Secondly, it is occasionally possible to combine coloured contact lenses with varifocals. This way, you can get the dream look with the clearest view of reality.


How to choose which lenses to go for:


Pupil size and magnifying power for reading are key factors in determining which type of varifocals to opt for. The magnifying power is measured as ‘high’, ‘low’ or ‘medium’, and is often referred to as an ‘add’ or near prescription. Generally, a low add is best matched with aspheric multifocals. On the other hand, high adds pair well with the alternating vision offered by the concentric design. Additionally, larger pupils can prove problematic with aspheric lenses. 


It is worth considering a varifocal contact lens trial before investing in one, to ensure you find the best varifocal contact lenses for you. Some of the most popular brands are Air Optix, Biofinity and Bausch & Lomb:


Air optix:

This brand of contact lenses focuses on providing clear vision and consistent comfort. Their ultra-thin protective layer helps to shield the eye from irritation by retaining moisture on the lens surface to ensure constant hydration.




Biofinity lenses from CooperVision use Aquaform Technology to fuse oxygen and water together. The unique material created guarantees consistent hydration, making them some of the longest lasting, most comfortable lenses available online.


Bausch and lomb varifocal contact lenses


The SofLens Contact Lenses from Bausch and Lomb are particularly recommended for correcting issues such as Astigmatism and Myopia. They also specialise in all day comfort and excellent clarity of vision.


See our brand guide for contact lenses to check out our wide range of options.


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