Varifocal problems

11 March 2021

As Opticians, we will always tell you how good and useful varifocal lenses are. I personally love them, I wear them every day, I recommend them every day, I get excited talking about them every day. BUT there are some common problems that I feel you should know aboutSometimes clients can feel bad if they can’t get on with varifocals, when ifact, it’s no ones fault; not the client, and not the optician*. It’s just the way it is. The thing that determines a lot of these issues is how your brain deals with the different areas in the lens. 

*Sometimes varifocal problems can be because the lenses aren’t lined up in the frame and sometimes can be solved with a refit.  

Understanding that varifocals have limitations and that some people can have problems is a positive step towards wearing them successfully. Having all the information prepares you for dealing with any issues if they arise. Forewarned is forearmed as they say I must stress, many people will experience no problems at all with varifocals, but it’s worth knowing that they could happen. 


  1. Let’s start with the big one. Due to the distortion at the sides of the lenses you can sometimes experience what we call swim and sway. This means that the sides of your vision can feel like it’s moving as you move your head.  This can make some people feel a little nauseous. If you’ve ever been on a treadmill then stepped off, the room can feel like it’s moving forwards and backwards in the periphery of your vision as you step forward – this is how some clients can feel with their varifocals. If this happens the good news is that you can adapt to it. It will take some effort on your part but trust me it does get better! From years of experience (unfortunately over 20!) I know that if you put them on and leave them on your brain will adapt. It could take up to 2 weeks. Putting them on for an hour or two each day for 2 weeks won’t work. It’s kind of all or nothing. This can be a big ask, but it does work.  
  1. You can’t find the reding vision. This can be a strange one sometimes. The power for the reading vision is in there but you just can’t see to read very well. We would need to look at what going on carefully. Is it head position? A first-time wearer will sometimes drop their chin rather than their eyes to try to read. What normally happens is that if you think about it too much you get into the wrong position to find the right power in the lens. You can learn to naturally drop your eyes once you stop thinking about what you should be doing.  Is the reading part too low down the lens? It could be that the power you need is too far down and you have to lift the glasses up to see to read. We can redesign the varifocal to shorten this change (called the corridor) bringing the reading part further up the lens, making it easier to find. 


As you can see there are a few things that could be a problem when wearing varifocals and I want all varifocal wearers to be prepared just in case they encounter any of them. Even an experienced wearer could get issues with increased distortion in the lenses if their prescription gets stronger.  

My advice is to always speak to your Optician and their team if you do experience any of these problems. There is usually a solution, some are more difficult than others, such as the brain adapting to changes, which can take time. It’s always worth sticking with it as the benefits of wearing varifocals are great compared to having to swap glasses for different things. Unfortunately, there are a few people whose brains just won’t have the changes. This is what we call a non-tolerance to varifocals and it’s usually the swim and sway that people can’t stand or not being able to find the reading vision although everything in the lens checks out perfectly. In these cases our varifocals are guaranteed and can be swapped for a different lens solution, you would never be stuck with glasses you can’t use.   

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