If your only concern is saving money, buying eyeglasses online sounds like a great idea.
If you wish to ensure your best vision, protect your eyes, enjoy maximum comfort — and also save a few bucks — an online optical purchase may not be the best decision. Here are just a few reasons:
• Impact resistance. In the United States, there are strict Occupational Safety and Health Administration and American National Standards Institute standards for spectacle lenses, including minimum thickness guidelines to ensure maximum impact resistance. Many optical retailers and labs apply even stricter standards — especially for kids. That's not necessarily so in other countries.
Last year, I had a man in my shop who wanted to replace a lens that had shattered when he dropped his glasses. Upon inspection, I noticed that the unbroken lens was so thin I could flex it so that the edges almost touched one another. If an object such as a small pebble had hit the lens while he was wearing them, it easily could have shattered into many small pieces, some of which could have damaged his cornea. He had purchased the glasses online.
• Comfort and fit. Virtually "trying on" frames via a picture on your computer screen has technological allure, and it can give you an idea of how the frames might look on you. But if you never really try them on, you can't know that they will fit you comfortably. The frames may be too loose or too tight. The temples (side pieces) may be too short or too long. Perhaps they're too heavy — they slide down your nose, or just don't feel good.
Your options: Live with uncomfortable, ill-fitting glasses, send them back, or try to adjust them yourself.
Take them to your neighborhood optician, and you may not get a warm reception. Why? First, it's not fair to customers who are purchasing glasses and are waiting for service. Additionally, the cost of adjustments and repairs are part of the purchase price.
So you likely will have to mail them back to the place you bought them.
• More fit issues. When you order glasses from a qualified professional, part of the initial consultation is determining your pupillary distance or PD (the distance between your pupils in millimeters) and if you wear bifocals a multifocal height or MFH (the distance from the deepest geometric point on the frame to your lower lid or middle of your pupil). If the PD is off just a few millimeters, you'll find yourself with varying degrees of double vision, stress and strain, and general discomfort. I have seen glasses purchased online with a PD that's off by as much as 10 millimeters. To give you an idea of how far off that is, it's like you ordered pants with a 32 waist size, and received a 37.
Yes, there are websites and phone apps designed to self-take those measurements. I have tried about a dozen of them, and they all came up with incorrect — sometimes significantly incorrect — measurements.
If you are a bifocal wearer and the MFH is off, the reading portion of your prescription will be positioned too low, which means you have to tilt your head back uncomfortably to focus on what you're reading. Or it could be positioned too high, which means your reading portion would encroach on your distance vision. So you'd have to tilt your head down, or slide the glasses down your nose while driving or walking.
Inexplicably, most online eyeglass sellers don't even ask for the MFH measurement.
• There are better ways to save on glasses. Especially in today's economy, if you were to simply ask an eye care professional to match a reasonable online offer, they probably would. But remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. I'm not going to "match" an incredibly low online price, because 30 years' experience tells me it's not an apples-to-apples match.
Consider also that when you purchase your eyewear from an educated, trained professional, you're not only getting someone to guide, consult, fit, adjust, repair and verify, you're also meeting, in person, someone who wants you to remain a satisfied customer for years to come.
Anthony D. Record has been a Florida-licensed optician since 1984 and is a contributing editor to Eye Care Professional magazine and an adjunct instructor at Rockhurst University in Kansas. He is with Max Optics in Port Richey.