Understanding your prescription for glasses

Published on
December 19, 2022

You will receive a printout of your prescription at the end of the eye exam in our office. It can be confusing to try to understand your glasses prescription. The printout may contain various abbreviations and numbers. To help you better understand your prescription, we're going to discuss some basic prescription terms in this blog.

What does your glasses prescription mean?

  • The OD refers to your right eye's prescription
  • The OS is the prescription for the left eye
  • OU refers to both eyes together
  • Under the sphere (SPH) column, you will find your overall lens prescription. Distance corrections for farsightedness (hyperopia) are indicated by a plus ( + ), while corrections for nearsightedness (myopia) are indicated by a minus ( - ). 
  • Another part of your prescription is the cylinder (CYL) which refers to how much power you need to correct the curvature of your eye, which is commonly prescribed for patients with astigmatism.
  • Axis refers to the direction in which astigmatism needs to be corrected.
  • An add column might be on your prescription if you are over 40 years old and need glasses to read or do near work. It is possible to get single vision glasses that are only for distance or only for reading or you can get bifocal or multifocal glasses if you have been prescribed add (for patients with presbyopia).

Are glasses and contact lens prescriptions the same?

Generally, contact lenses have different prescriptions than glasses because they sit on the eye, so the distance is different. There might be different powers for astigmatism and spherical powers in your contact lens prescription, in addition to the base curves that describe the curvature of the lenses, as each pair has a different base curve. Another component of a contact lens prescription is the diameter, which indicates their size. Also specified on the prescription is the brand of contact lenses, what type should be worn, and whether they should be changed daily, every two weeks, or monthly.

Get an up-to-date prescription for glasses or contact lenses in Olympia, WA by scheduling an eye exam or contact lens exam

We welcome new and existing patients to our full scope optometry clinic and full service optical. Our team of optometrists and opticians are happy to schedule you in for a routine eye exam or contact lens exam as well as medical eye exams, emergency eye exams, and specialty services such as specialty contact lenses, low vision, and vision therapy. We are happy to answer any questions you may have about your glasses or contact lens prescription, or if you believe you need a new prescription, please don't hesitate to contact us at (360) 491-2121 for an appointment in Olympia.


Such a nice optician. My grandson is only 4 and needs glasses. We were so sad, but he explained the issues, and we will follow up as he suggested.

Anna P.

I had such a good experience with the clinic. Very friendly staff and doctor, did not have to wait for long to be called, and was treated respectfully. Thanks, American Family.

June S.

Dr. Zurcher has gone above and beyond what any other eye doctor has ever done to figure out what is going on with my eyes. Very happy with American Family Vision.

Christine R.

Family Vision Clinic changed our lives! My daughter was frequently car sick, and she was getting headaches every day, often painful enough that they brought her to tears. We saw a string of doctors and therapists, but we made no progress. Finally, we found Dr. Levi Zurcher and his eye therapist Rain. After ten weeks of eye therapy my daughter no longer gets headaches, and she no longer gets car sick. Daily tears are a thing of the past. I really can’t say enough about this clinic. It was fascinating to watch Dr. Zurcher work. For the first time, someone who knew what they were doing was intently studying my daughter, really trying to figure out all of her eye issues, and his therapist Rain is one of the most patient and lovely people that I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. We’re finished with eye therapy—yay!—and I have switched to American Family Vision Clinic for all of my family’s other eye health needs.

Lars Wulff

Very professional, yet kind and helpful. They do what they can to make the appointment comfortable. I was running a bit late, I made sure ti call. They were able to switch me with a patient who was already there, they treated me with respect, and helped my son have confidence by getting him the eye care he needed that day. Thank you so much! Would recommend to anyone. It's a blessing that they care enough to work with people who have all different types of insurance from work to state coverage.

Justin E.

The staff is friendly. The Doc is very knowledgeable. The office is family friendly and everyone is so patient with the little ones.

Amy Fagerness
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