While travelling on the Gautrain recently, an optometrist overheard a conversation between two other passengers. 

“I have just collected my new glasses from my optometrist,” said one of the men. “I can see clearly with them, but I find the glare really bothers me.” 

“Didn’t you discuss that with your optometrist? Couldn’t he recommend something to deal with your problem?” asked his companion. 

“He made a number of suggestions but none of them are covered by my medical aid, so I decided against them.” 

Making a decision based primarily on what is covered by medical aid may be false economy. Glasses are often an expensive item but making a co-payment that will not be too tough on the pocket may be worthwhile in the long run. Lens coatings can improve the performance, longevity, durability and appearance of your glasses as well as providing necessary protection for both your lenses and your eyes. 

At the very least one should consider a hard or scratch-resistant coating. Scratched lenses interfere with the clarity of vision, often leading to eye strain or headaches. Sometimes excessive scratching necessitates replacing the lenses fairly frequently. While no lenses are completely scratch-proof, applying a scratch-proof coating makes them more resistant to scratching, reduces smudging and makes them easier to clean, prolonging the life of the lenses. 

The man on the train would certainly benefit from an anti-reflex coating on his glasses. This virtually eliminates reflections on the front and back surfaces of the glasses by blocking reflected light, allowing more light through the lenses, reducing glare and optimising visual acuity. It is particularly effective with night driving when reflections and haloes of street lights and the lights of oncoming cars is a problem for some people. As well as the cosmetic benefit of improving the appearance of the glasses, an anti-reflex coating helps reduce eye strain from working at the computer or in low light for lengthy periods. 

Polarised lenses eliminate the glare from light reflected off the road, bonnet of the car or surface of water. This glare may be irritating or uncomfortable at times, but it can also be dangerous when the reflection is at a certain angle and can be blinding. Some optometrists are of the opinion that polarised lenses are not an option but a necessity, particularly for people who drive long distances. 

Ultraviolet coating cuts down on ambient light and helps protect the eyes from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun, which play a role in the development of eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration. The most effective protection blocks out 99 to 100% of the full ultraviolet spectrum. 

Thanks to LED lights and the ever-increasing use of digital devices, we are exposed to more blue light radiation than ever before. Recent research suggests that filtering blue light while working on the computer cuts down screen brightness and flickering, reducing the symptoms of eye strain and fatigue. Blue light filter coating on lenses is claimed to minimise the harmful portion of blue light while allowing the less harmful portion to pass through. 

Photochromic lenses darken automatically in response to specific types of light, most commonly sunlight, and return to clear (or nearly clear) when indoors or in the absence of the activating light. They are useful for people who have light sensitivity or for those who do not want a separate pair of prescription sunglasses. 

Taking into account that medical aids generally cover only the basic essentials, a frank discussion with your optometrist will help you decide if it would be worth adding to the extra cost of your glasses.