Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why Do I Need A Prescription For Eyeglasses?

Sheppard Wallace submitted in an excellent question that I would like to cover here on The Optical Blog. Here is a copy of his email below:

I want to but a new set of eyeglasses, but my prescription has expired. I need to go to a doctor to get a new prescription before I can order a new set of glasses. When did eyeglasses become some sort of controlled substance? Who paid congress for this law?

Is there a place where I can just order a set of glasses made to my desired specs? I noticed you can buy reading glasses over the counter at the drugstore, or even the $.99 store.

Yours Truly,
Sheppard Wallace

Here are some reader responses to Sheppard’s question:

Sheppard, In addition to verifying that your prescription hasn’t changed, the eye doctor also screens for a variety of potential problems that are better learned early. But it is silly for this to be an actual requirement, rather than just something that is strongly recommended.

I doubt that the non-US sites that sell glasses care overlymuch about the date on the prescription (that many will never see). is one frequently mentioned, they sell prescription glasses starting at $8. I’ve never used them but it doesn’t look like they have any interest in seeing your prescription, you just type in the info. I don’t have any idea whether you or they are breaking any laws by purchasing glasses with an old prescription.

Bob Johnson submitted the following information:

Take your glasses in and just have them dupe what is there. They can do it. Go someplace that doesn’t have your Rx on hand if you’re getting hassled.

This submission actually lead me to ask for opinions from opticians about duplication of a prescription. I was able to get an excellent response from Cindy McDowell, an optician from Chicago:

It’s difficult to duplicate lenses unless its for exactly the same frames, since part of the calculus involves how wide-set your eyes are. And it’s even more diffcult to find the same frames twice, or even once, IME. You can’t comparison shop them, because every outlet has different model numbers, though some very similar models.

The last time I used the prescription to have a new pair made was 1985 or 86 in downtown Chicago and had no problem; usually, I get a new exam if I need new glasses. My “new” glasses are under 2 yrs old, and cost almost $700, but they are super thin, super light blended trifocals. One thing they can do is replace the lenses in your old frames.

I almost had them do that with my sport frames, which seem practically indestructable. But my distance vision hasn’t really changed enough to warrant it, just reading and middle distance. What I don’t understand is that this eye doctor (who had taken over my old one’s shop) gave me a 10% discount because I had health insurance.

Not that I’m gonna turn it down, but that seems backward to me. Does everyone get a discount? Is she getting a kickback for this–from whom?

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