26 June 2012

Reading: up close and personal

by Will Parker

There are no significant gender-related differences in the eye's ability to focus at near distances, so scientists have been looking for other reasons why women need higher power reading glasses than men of an equivalent age. Their paper, in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, suggests that factors such as arm length and reading distance may be the critical factors.

The new work is a meta-analysis based on nine past cross-sectional studies that compared the prevalence and magnitude of presbyopia (the loss of near vision that occurs with age) among men and women. The researchers sought to determine what differences in presbyopia might exist between men and women.

The overall analysis provided evidence that women have a need for higher power reading glasses or bifocals than men of the same age. According to the researchers, this discrepancy is likely due to differences in preferred reading distances, the nature of the reading tasks performed, or arm length, as women tend to hold reading materials closer than men do.

Clinicians should do more than measure the eye's ability to focus when diagnosing presbyopia, say the researchers. In particular, the interaction between the preferred reading distance and the change in accommodative amplitude across time for males and females could help determine to what extent biological factors or environmental factors plays a role in the loss of focusing ability with increasing age.

"These findings could impact vision care in multiple ways," enthused study co-author Adam Hickenbotham, from the University of California. "The findings reinforce the need for presbyopia correction programs for women - a group that often has greater unmet vision needs in developing countries."

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Source: Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology