Understanding your prescription

What your prescription really means

what does your prescription mean

Ever wondered what all the symbols and numbers on your prescription mean?

+’ or ‘-‘

+’ – Shows if you are long sighted (longsightedness)

-‘ – Shows if you are short sighted (shortsightedness)


PD Pupillary distance is the distance between your eyes measured between your pupil centre points


SPH Spherical number shows how strong the correction needs to be


CYL Cylinder number shows how much astigmatism you have


AXIS Axis shows the position of the cylinder and will be between 1 & 180


PRISM This shows if you have a muscle imbalance in your eye


BASE This shows the direction of the prism in your lens


ADD This will indicate if you need a prescription for reading. Is applied to bifocal and varifocal lenses to correct presbyopia

You can read more about different types of prescriptions here.

Common layouts of prescriptions

Below are examples of prescriptions. The first set are standard prescriptions. Look through these to get a feel. Typed prescriptions are generally quite easy to understand, it’s mostly handwritten ones that cause problems.

At the end of the page are examples of unusual cases you may encounter, with instructions for what to do. Skip straight to the more unusual items.

This is a standard NHS prescription:

NHS standard prescription

It would be written as follows:

NHS standard prescription solution

Dolland & Aitchinson

Dolland & Aitchinson example

It would be written as follows:

Dolland & Aitchinson solution


Specsavers example

It would be written as follows:

Specsavers solution

Vision express

Vision Express example

Here the additions are placed away from the rest of the prescription, it would be written as follows: Vision Express solution

More unusual figures

Sometimes figures like this appear on your prescription. These are not needed to make your lenses. Figures not needed

Some prescriptions have this figure, which looks like a sideways 8. This means ‘infinity’. And you should select ‘infinity’ from the list. Infinity example

This prescription also has some figures scrawled underneath these are Additions for both intermediate and near distances. Even though it’s a single figure, it applies to both eyes.

Additions example

This would be written like this: NOTE: Use the “My prescription is more complex than this…” link to show you this more advanced prescription area Addition solution

Sometimes opticians write ‘DS’ in the CYL column. This simply means there is no astigmatism, and you can enter either nothing (leave the field blank) or select the phrase DS in the drop down.

No astigmatism example