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Understanding Your Eyeglass Prescription

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Have You Been Told You Need Glasses? 

Refractive errors such as myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism and presbyopia are all common vision problems that cause blurred vision. Fortunately, your new optical prescription will enable you to see clearly.

Your eyeglass prescription may look confusing to you, but to the optician who is dispensing your new glasses, this prescription tells them all they need to know about your visual needs and the type of refractive error you have.

Here’s what those abbreviations and numbers on prescription mean:

SPH ‘Sphere’

To determine the primary focusing power of your lenses, the optician will first look at the SPH printed on the prescription. This stands for ‘sphere’ and is represented by a number in diopters. Depending on the type of refractive error you have, it will be preceded by a minus sign for myopia, like -2.25 D, or plus sign for hyperopia, like +3.00 D.

CYL ‘Cylinder’

If you have an astigmatism, it will be represented by the cylinder (CYL) on the prescription, which is a number followed by the axis; these two numbers indicate the level and orientation of your astigmatism. The axis is a number from 1 to 180.

An example of the ‘cylinder’ part of the prescription is ‘-1.00 x 180.’ The SPH and CYL indicate the optical prescription for your distance vision.


If you require a bifocal or multifocal lens, you will see the word ‘Add.’ This just means the magnifying power that is added to the distance prescription to improve your visual clarity for near vision tasks, such as reading or computer use. The eye condition that requires an ‘Add’ to your prescription is known as presbyopia.

An example of the ‘Add’ on the prescription is ‘+2.00.’

If you have any questions about your eyeglass prescription or to schedule an eye exam, contact EYEcenter Optometric. Our offices are conveniently located in Citrus Heights, Gold River, Rocklin, Folsom, and Sacramento.

At EYEcenter Optometric, we put your family's needs first. Talk to us about how we can help you maintain healthy vision. Call us today: 916-727-6518 or book an appointment online to see one of our Citrus Heights eye doctors.

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Q & A:

#1: How is my optical prescription measured?

During your comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor will use a computerized (automated) or manual refraction test to identify any presenting refractive error: myopia, hyperopia, presbyopia or astigmatism. If you have a refractive error, your eye doctor will determine your optical prescription by placing a series of lenses in front of your eyes to accurately determine the optimum prescription for you to see clearly and comfortably from both eyes.

#2: How often should I have an eye exam?

It is important to have regular eye exams. Your eye doctor will advise how often you should be seen, depending on your visual needs — though an annual eye exam is often recommended.

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