Doing things online can often save time and money, but not always—and especially not when it comes to health-related products and services, such as ordering eyeglasses and contact lenses or having your vision tested.
“Shopping online can be great, but not for custom-made items such as prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses,” says Sandy T. Feldman, MD, an ophthalmologist in San Diego, California. “Internet orders can be problematic, and it’s often cheaper and faster to get your glasses or contacts through your eye doctor or an optician.”
Buying Eyeglasses Online. Every pair of eyeglasses is a made-to-order product that requires a number of important decisions. There are a wide array of frame designs, lens materials, and lens coatings to consider, and many people find it difficult to evaluate various options online. One advantage of purchasing eyewear in-person is that you can try frames on as an eye doctor or optician guides you through the process.
Another advantage: Knowing that your eyes are properly measured, your frames are properly fitted, and your corrected vision is the best it can possibly be. This is especially important for when buying bifocals or progressive lenses, which can be tricky to fit and require extra measurements.
Buying Contact Lenses Online.
Contacts are much easier to purchase online than eyeglasses, provided a qualified expert has evaluated your vision and written a prescription. But online sources aren’t always less expensive, so be sure to comparison shop. Focus on value—not just price—and evaluate things such as availability, customer service, how long it takes for shipping, and any special deals that might be offered for bundled products or “People tend to assume that contacts purchased from an optometrist or physician cost more than contacts ordered online, and that isn’t always the case,” says Dr. Feldman. “Searching for the best price online can be frustrating and time-consuming. I tell patients that anything ordered online also involves some degree of risk, and contact lenses—which are considered sterile, FDA-regulated medical devices—are no exception. Make sure you use a reputable U.S.-based company with a website that requires a valid prescription.”
Other brick-and-mortar options include optical chains such as LensCrafters or Pearle Vision, and mass merchandisers such as Sears, Target, Walmart, or Costco.
Online Eye Exams.
Online eye exams are widely available, but don’t be fooled. These may help screen for diseases but do not replace some tests performed at the doctor’s office.
- Visual field test—assesses peripheral vision loss and indicators of early glaucoma
- Cover test—helps identify lazy eye, depth perception, and other conditions
- Slit lamp test—observes the internal structure of the eye through a microscope
- Eye pressure exam—uses numbing drops and a puff of air to detect glaucoma
- Dilation—uses special eye drops to open the pupil for a better view inside the eye
Experts recommend having a comprehensive eye exam every two years to detect any early signs of abnormalities or degeneration. Eye doctors are often the first healthcare professionals to detect chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
“Online eye exams are, at best, very preliminary,” says Dr. Feldman. “If you do take one and it suggests even a slight vision problem, be sure to see an eye doctor right away.”