The facts on buying glasses online

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

By now, many of you have heard that glasses can be purchased online, and at a significant discount compared to your local eye care provider. As a consumer, I would probably jump at the opportunity to save some money and try them out. However, as an optometrist who has had to “redo” glasses for these patients, I’m going to tell you to save your time and money and get them at your eye care provider.

What a shocker – of course an optometrist would urge you to purchase from the local eye care practice. But not for the obvious reason you might think. It’s for you, the patient’s own benefit. You visit your optometrist expecting an updated prescription to see your best. Your optometrist places you behind the phoropter (think Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 album cover), adjusts the instrument for measurements specific to your eyes such as vertex distance, pantoscopic tilt and pupillary distance. Then, you painstakingly choose between lens ‘1’ and ‘2’, sweating for fear of choosing incorrectly. And after many tests for binocularity, focusing skills and eye alignment, you are given a prescription that is highly specific and customized.

Once the rest of the eye health exam is completed, I will then instruct my optician to help choose the correct style of frame. A patient needing a progressive lens may need a larger frame, extending about an inch below his eyelid, for enough reading power. The patient with high amounts of astigmatism cannot be placed into a frame that wraps the face too much. A patient who is highly farsighted may not do well in a half-rim frame. A child needs an impact-resistant lens material. The specific requirements go on and on.

Many online retailers simply ask for your prescription and a measurement called pupillary distance. That is simply the distance between your pupils. But that is not the only measurement required in making a good pair of glasses. Tilt of the frame, how close the glasses sit to the eyes and optical center are equally important and contribute to clarity and comfort of vision.

After multiple visits and purchasing new glasses (in addition to the online pair that doesn’t work), many of my patients have learned to not skimp on eye wear. I do not fault those for purchasing less expensive glasses. I understand that some just can’t afford a good quality pair. Speak to your optometrist about that. We may have more affordable frames to choose from or can discuss specific items needed in your glasses.

The bottom line is that we want you to see and look your best. Understandably, that may come at a higher price, but why hold back on something that sits in the middle of your face?

~ Cindy P. Wang, OD, FAAO
California Optometric Association