Our Ratings Tables show our evaluations of area outlets that sell eyeglasses
and contact lenses.
Our ratings reveal sizeable differences in customer satisfaction: of the
outlets rated on our Ratings Tables, at the time of our last full,
published article, 63 were rated "superior" for the overall quality of
their service by at least 80 percent of their surveyed customers, while
37 got such favorable ratings from fewer than 40 percent.
There is plenty of room for quality variation. How happy you are with your
eyeglasses will depend on how carefully staff specifies how the lenses
are to be ground, how accurately the lenses are positioned within your
glasses relative to your eyes, the choice of frames for fit and appearance,
and how well the frames are adjusted. With contact lenses, you need advice
on the type of lenses that best fits your pattern of use and your eyes
and you will want skilled follow-up care.
Price matters also. We found prices for identical eyeglass frames and lenses
were twice as high at some outlets as at others. For contacts (with exam
and fitting), the price differences were even larger—often more than three
times as high at some outlets as at others. our Ratings Tables show
how the companies stacked up when we surveyed them for their prices on
a number of different types, makes, and models of eyeglasses and contact
For both eyeglasses and contacts, we found that the least expensive sellers
usually can be found online. For contacts, there's little reason not to
buy online, particularly if you're just replenishing a year's supply of
lenses and not changing brands or type. But shopping for glasses online
is challenging since it's hard to tell which frames will be a good choice
for your face.
You can shop for price for eyeglasses without concern that you might get
glasses that will damage your eyes. You will know after a few days if the
glasses you get aren't right. With contact lenses, it is possible to do
permanent damage to your eyes; the first time you get contacts or a new
type of contacts, make a follow-up appointment to be sure there are no
If eyeglass frames aren't comfortable or if you have discomfort with your
vision for more than a few days, return to the store that sold you your
eyewear and explain the problem. At no charge, the store should adjust
the frames for comfort; if the problem is with the lenses, they should
check that the lenses match your prescription and are positioned correctly
in the frames, and that the frames are positioning the lenses properly
in relation to your eyes.
our Ratings Tables show how area eyewear outlets were rated when we
surveyed area CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers. The table includes
ratings from over 12,500 consumers. Fortunately, most eyewear customers
are satisfied with their choices of outlets. When there are problems, the
complaints usually relate to second-rate customer service—rude salespersons,
long waits, and indifferent advice—and high prices. But some consumers
also complain of incompetence.
Although most outlets are able to provide eyeglasses and contacts that
fit satisfactorily and properly correct their wearers' vision, there is
a lot that can go wrong. For example, there's the positioning of lenses.
The prescription gives the power of the lens, and most eyewear outlets
succeed in getting lenses consistently ground to match the prescription,
but the optician or optometrist must also be sure that the optical centers
of the lenses, when mounted in your glasses, match up with the pupils of
your eyes. If the centers are too close together or too far apart or too
high or low, your vision may be distorted. If you have astigmatism, the
lens will have an axis that must be oriented to line up properly with the
eye. For someone with a strong lens, rotating the axis by five degrees
might reduce vision from 20/20 down to 20/60.
Another consideration is the "base curve" of the lens—the curve you feel
if you run your finger over the lens. Your optician or optometrist should
confirm with the facility that will be grinding the lens what the base
curve should be, based on what the manufacturer of the frames recommends
for your prescription. Some eyeglass outlets don't always bother with this
check. Getting this curve right helps ensure that the lens will perform
It is also important that the frame fit you well. Fitting the contour of
the nose is critical. A badly fitted frame either will be uncomfortable
or will cause the glasses to slip out of position. If you have a strong
prescription, a store's staff should also alert you to the disadvantages
of large frames: the lenses not only will be heavy and look thick at the
edges; they're also likely to distort the view at the edges.
Choosing the right frame is important to how you see and feel and also
to how you look. A good salesperson will help you find frames that complement
your face. Your selection should look right with the line of your eyebrows,
the spacing of your eyes, and the shape and size of your face.
Contact lenses have their own set of issues. You will want good advice
on the type of lenses that will suit your pattern of use and your budget.
And you'll want proper follow-up when you get a new type of lenses to ensure
that there is no risk to the health of your eyes.
Given the many ways in which an eyeglass supplier can help you make the
right purchase, you will want to choose outlets carefully.
If you have a prescription from a recent exam, you can go to any optician
or optometrist to get eyeglasses. Many also dispense contact lenses. Most
of these will dispense contact lenses based on a recent prescription you've
gotten elsewhere, but some will insist on doing their own exam. Most suppliers
consider a prescription recent enough if it's based on an exam within the
past year, and some will let you go back further, particularly for eyeglasses,
depending on your age and eye care history.
If you don't have a current prescription, you can get one at many of the
listed outlets. Opticians can't give exams, but many outlets either are
run by optometrists, who can, or have one working in an affiliated office.
(Virginia law prohibits an optician firm from employing an optometrist,
but the optometrist can be just a door away.)
Once you get an exam, you have the right to take the prescription anywhere
else to get eyeglasses. In Maryland and Virginia, you also have the right
to take your prescription anywhere else to get contact lenses. In the District,
however, an optometrist who gives the exam does not have to let you take
your prescription for contact lenses, and some won't. Their argument is
that providing contact lenses is a professional service in which the exam,
the supplying of lenses, and follow-up care must be done together in order
to get a consistently safe and satisfactory result. Many other practitioners—especially
opticians (who can't do exams)—dispute this view, but there is an additional
reason you might want to get your lenses where you get your exam: if the
lenses don't work out (and many times contact lenses don't), there will
be no question who is responsible.
Since you have some freedom to shop around, you may as well do so at quality
stores. As we noted previously, good-old-fashioned customer service is
a challenge at a number of area eyewear outlets. The ratings on our Ratings Tables show how sizeable the store-to-store differences are on this front.
At the time of our last full, published article, sixty-three of the 240
listed outlets were rated "superior" for the overall quality of their service
by at least 80 percent of their surveyed customers, while 37 got such favorable
ratings from fewer than 40 percent. (For more information on our customer
survey and other research methods, click here.)
In general, chains and franchise operations were rated lower than other
firms. But there was variation among the chain and franchise operations.
At the time of our last full, published article, the chain or franchise
operations with the lowest percentage of "superior" overall ratings, on
average, were Hour Eyes (27 percent), America's Best (28 percent), and
Sears (42 percent); those with the highest percentage were Voorthuis Opticians
(76 percent) and Costco (69 percent).
Since there are many firms with excellent, or at least acceptable, ratings
for quality of service, you have room to shop for price. Here is a key
point to keep in mind: you can shop for price for eyeglasses without any
risk of permanent damage to your eyes; if your prescription or the grinding
of your lenses is significantly off, you will know it, so you can get the
problem fixed or, if necessary, start again with a new pair.
For firms that were evaluated in our last full, published article, our
Ratings Tables give price index scores for each outlet for eyeglasses
and for contact lenses.
The eyeglasses scores are based on prices our shoppers were quoted for
up to 22 pairs of glasses. This index reflects each store's prices relative
to other stores' prices for the same models of frames and basic lenses
for a common low-correction, single-vision prescription.
We set the average price index score at $100. A price index score of $110
for a company means that the company's price quotes were about 10 percent
above the multi-company average.
Fortunately, you can shop for low prices for eyeglasses and not give up
good service. Our survey identified many stores with price index scores
below $90, and some of these stores also receive our top rating for quality.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to compare prices for eyeglasses for a number
of big chains, including America's Best, B J's Wholesale, Costco, J C Penney,
Sam's Club, Sears, and Wal-Mart, since their selection of frames differs
so much from that of other stores. But our experience has been that prices
at B J's, Costco, Sam's Club, and Wal-Mart tend to be among the lowest
for items they do carry.
Among the chains and franchises for which we were able to compare prices,
For Eyes was the winner for price, with a price index score of $83, based
on an average across the outlets we surveyed. We found that Hour Eyes'
prices averaged about five percent lower than the all-outlet average and
that LensCrafters' prices averaged about three percent higher than the
Though we found fairly consistent pricing throughout the area within most
of the chains and franchise operations, there was some variation in prices
from location to location within each of the surveyed chains and franchise
operations. Within chains and franchise operations where we found relatively
consistent outlet-to-outlet pricing, we have reported on our Ratings Tables the same price index score for each outlet; for those where our
shoppers found larger location-to-location price variation, we have reported
a price index score for each store based on the prices we found at that
The eyeglasses price index scores are good guides to low-priced outlets.
But they are not a perfect indicator. It is possible that some stores with
high prices on the items we shopped might have relatively low prices on
other items. Some might offer relatively low prices on private-brand frames
but not on the national-brand frames we priced (private-brand frames weren't
included in our survey since they couldn't be compared from one firm to
another). In general, however, outlets tend to have relatively consistent
pricing policies, and choosing a firm with a low price index score greatly
improves your chances of getting a good price on whatever glasses you finally
Since the price index scores for eyeglasses are not always a good predictor
of contact lens prices, we've reported separate contact lens price index
scores on our Ratings Tables for firms that were evaluated in our last
full, published article. These scores show how each outlet's prices compared
to the average of the prices for all other quoting outlets for simple prescriptions
using each outlet's cheapest available brands for five types of contacts—daily
lenses, daily disposable lenses, two-week extended-wear disposable lenses,
monthly disposable lenses, and rigid gas-permeable vial lenses. We've listed
a price index score for an outlet only if we got quotes on at least two
of these types of lenses.
The scores are adjusted so that the average for all firms is $100. The
scores are based on the price of the lenses and the exam, fitting, and
follow-up visits, since most buyers pay a package price that includes an
exam and some amount of follow-up care.
You should be aware that there are differences in the amount of service
different firms include in a contact lens package price. This adds confusion
to your shopping task.
One element of variation has to do with the range of service that is included
in an exam and in follow-up care. Sometimes the stated price for contacts
includes a thorough eye exam; sometimes it includes just a quick exam with
a refraction test and measurements of the size and shape of the eyeball;
sometimes it does not include an exam. Also, at some firms, the price covers
as many follow-up visits as you wish within a stated period of time (such
as three months or a year), but at others it covers only one or two follow-up
There is also variation in refund policies and warranties on contacts.
Most dispensers will give back some or all of your money if your eyes do
not adapt to the contacts within a specified time. A few don't have a refund
policy but promise to make many adjustments, if necessary, to reach a satisfactory
fit. Neither arrangement provides foolproof protection for you. Dispensers
with refund policies may give up quickly if you are hard to fit and then
give you only a partial refund. Promises to make extensive adjustments
are not worth much if the adjustments are not made skillfully; and, remember,
each adjustment will require your time.
While these variations in the contact lens service package mean that the
prices we collected aren't exactly comparable from firm to firm, the contact
lens price index scores on our Ratings Tables are useful guides to
help you find low-priced outlets where you can begin your shopping. As
you can see, the variation in price index scores is large, with the index
more than twice as high at some outlets as at others.
Looking at our price index scores for contacts, you can see that Costco,
with an index score of $57, was the winner for price. America's Best ($60),
Sam's Club ($69), Wal-Mart ($73), For Eyes ($77), Hour Eyes ($78), and
J C Penney ($79) also had prices that were well below average. As with
our price index scores for eyeglasses, we found low prices at some area
stores that are unaffiliated with major chains, and according to our customer
survey results, many of these provide better service.
While choosing the right outlet is important for both service and price,
your final satisfaction with your purchase, and its cost, depends heavily
on your care in choosing among your outlet's many offerings.
A major decision is whether to buy glasses or contact lenses.
The major advantages of glasses are that they are usually cheaper, do not
irritate the surface of the eye, require less care, are not as easily lost,
can be made in special frames that protect the eye against some types of
accidents, and can be a fashion accessory.
The major advantages of contacts are that they are virtually invisible,
provide a wider field of vision, do not irritate the nose bridge and ears,
are relatively secure and safe to wear during sports activities, and cause
less visual distortion than glasses because they are fitted closer to the
eyes and move with the eyes. In instances of extreme nearsightedness or
farsightedness, and following cataract removal, contacts can be a real
godsend. Because of recent improvements in contacts, it is now possible
to get a better combination of comfort, safety, and visual acuity than
was possible in the past. So some individuals who have up to now preferred
glasses may want to reconsider.
If you do get contacts, it's a good idea to have a pair of glasses as a
backup—to wear in the event of loss of a contact, eye infections, allergies,
or other problems.
If you will be buying glasses, not contacts, a major decision is what type
of frame to get. In choosing frames, the main considerations are comfort,
positioning, durability, appearance, and price.
How They Feel
The key points to check for comfort of glasses are the bridge of the nose
and the ears, where the glasses rest. Unfortunately, trying on a frame
for a minute or two doesn't always reveal the discomfort that might occur
with extended wear. But there is not much more you can do. Of course, getting
glasses similar to ones you have had before limits your risk.
All other things being equal, the lightest glasses will be the most comfortable.
These usually have frames of plastic or thin metal with smallish-sized
lenses made of thin plastic.
If you are considering metal frames, keep several points in mind. Metal
frames usually have a nosepiece of rocking pads (small adjustable plastic
pads). Rocking pads are not likely to slip and are easily adjusted. This
is an advantage over plastic frames, which usually have a rigid nose support
that varies in shape among different manufacturers. But rocking pads, unlike
a good-fitting plastic nosepiece, concentrate the weight on a small surface
of the nose and are, therefore, uncomfortable to some people. If this is
a problem for you, consider one of the models with an inserted molded plastic
nosepiece instead of the rocking pads. Metal frames are also likely to
cause irritation on the ears. But many models avoid this problem by covering
the ends of the temples with plastic or rubber pads.
How They're Positioned
The main purpose of eyeglass frames is to position the lenses so that they
give you the greatest visual acuity. Some frames may position the lenses
too far from your eyes, or too high or low. If the frames slide down your
nose, you won't get the fullest benefit from the proper prescription lenses.
The stronger your prescription, the more critical the positioning becomes.
If you use your glasses for driving, sports, or other activities requiring
peripheral vision, make sure the "temples" (the two side parts of a frame
that extend behind the ears) are located above or below the eye, not directly
How Long They Will Last
Most glasses that are handled with care last three or four years, and many
eyeglass wearers want to change style at least that often. If you plan
to keep the frames longer, or if the frames are knocked around a lot in
sports activities, wrestling matches with your children, or whatever, strength
and durability are important. Both depend on the types of materials used
to make the frames, the thickness of the materials, and the craftsmanship.
In metal frames, the strongest ones usually are made with titanium. They
have smooth welding wherever two pieces of metal have been joined, and
they have flexible hinges.
Among plastic frames, the strongest are made of nylon, but these tend to
be thick, heavy, and plain in style. Among other plastic types, the strongest
usually have at least moderate thickness, metal reinforcing within the
full length of the temple (not needed in nylon or optyl plastic), and flexible
These are general guidelines. Some frames of other types may be quite durable,
and some meeting these standards may be rather frail.
How They Look
For most eyeglass wearers, appearance and style are key considerations.
In fact, a substantial number of frames are sold with clear, nonprescription
lenses to be worn just for effect.
As with anything else you wear, there is, of course, no best look for everyone.
To look right, frames must accommodate the shape of your eyebrows and cheekbones,
the spacing of your eyes, the height of your nose bridge, and the size
of your head. The conventional wisdom is that a person looks best in frames
that are shaped differently from his or her face—square or oblong rims
for round faces, round rims for square faces, and wide, shallow, oblong
rims for narrow faces.
Consumers' interest in style and brand names gives optometrists and opticians
an extra measure of leverage if they wish to guide you to a high-priced
frame. Your best approach is to try on a variety of frame styles to decide
for yourself which few look best and feel comfortable. Then look at the
price tags on those you like. Chances are some will be relatively inexpensive.
If not, be sure to take another look and ask the person helping you whether
there is another cheaper frame that looks similar to one you like.
What the Staff Recommends
The staffs at eyeglass outlets can be a valuable source of information
when selecting frames. They can suggest models that might eliminate comfort
or positioning problems you have previously experienced and steer you away
from models that might cause you other problems. But always ask for explanations
of the professionals' recommendations, and be suspicious if all the recommendations
are for their higher priced frames. These are usually the most profitable.
How Much They Cost
The prices of frames vary tremendously. Decent quality frames are sold
at prices ranging from less than $40 to more than $500.
In choosing the lenses for your eyeglasses, you have many options.
One question is whether to get glass or plastic. The lighter weight of
plastic is a particular advantage when the lenses are for large-style frames
or for a strong prescription (which requires a thick lens). The scratch
resistance of glass is a particular advantage if you take your glasses
off frequently, slipping them into your pocket, purse, or briefcase. Both
glass and plastic lenses are required by federal regulation to resist breakage
from moderate impacts, but no lenses are unbreakable.
If you have a strong prescription for nearsightedness, you may want lenses
made of materials that have a strong capacity to refract light. Such materials
permit a thinner, lighter lens, but cost extra.
An increasingly popular choice for individuals who need multifocal lenses
(bifocals or trifocals) and don't want others to be aware of this sign
of aging is "progressive," or "no-line," lenses. But such lenses are usually
more expensive than regular bifocals or trifocals and require special care
in fitting to avoid vision distortion.
Several types of lens treatments have grown in popularity in recent years.
One of the most popular options is a treatment to filter out ultraviolet
(UV) rays. There is evidence that UV rays contribute to the development
of cataracts and may cause damage to the retina. UV coating may be of interest
to you if your eyes are heavily exposed to UV radiation—for example, if
you work outdoors or spend a lot of time outdoors, particularly at the
beach or mountain climbing.
Another fast-growing option is anti-reflective coating. This type of coating
reduces reflection from your side. This is an especially helpful benefit
if you do a lot of night driving and it will reduce the reflection others
see when they look at—or photograph—you.
Other options include: scratch-resistant coating; tints; polarizing lenses
(which reduce glare from reflective surfaces, such as, water, snow, and
glass); and photochromic lenses, which are activated by UV and darken as
the sun gets brighter (but since most car windshields block UV, the effect
won't work while driving).
With all the possible features and add-ons, buying glasses begins to seem
like buying a car.
What's more, some firms push their options harder than a high-pressure
car salesperson does. Although the add-ons have more legitimacy than a
car dealer's rustproofing treatments and paint protection packages, you
have to treat each option skeptically. If your glasses have not gotten
scratched in the past or if reflection has never troubled you, don't be
pushed into paying to fix something that isn't broken.
Making the right choice in contact lenses is more complicated than selecting
and buying glasses.
Although a few contact lens wearers still have old-fashioned hard lenses,
most outlets currently supply only two basic types of lenses—soft lenses
and rigid gas permeable lenses.
Soft lenses, first introduced in 1971, are made of a gelatin-like substance
with high water content. Most wearers adapt to them quickly and easily.
The high water content allows the passage of oxygen to the cornea, the
tissue covering the eye. This oxygen supply is crucial since the cornea
doesn't have a blood supply like other body tissues.
Rigid gas-permeable lenses were first introduced in 1979. Current versions
allow oxygen easily to pass through. This feature, in turn, allows such
lenses to be larger than old-fashioned hard lenses, which had to be small
enough for oxygen to pass around them to the cornea. The larger size makes
for relative comfort because the eyelid doesn't have to pass over the edge
of the lens with each blink.
Soft lenses have several advantages compared to rigid lenses—
They are often easy to adapt to. You can wear them comfortably almost immediately
and you can stop wearing them for days or months and then start again without
an extended period of re-adaptation.
They are easily fitted. The softness permits some tolerance of variations
in a cornea's shape, so custom fitting is not required.
Because they cover a large part of the eye's surface, they work well in
dusty conditions where they prevent dust from getting to the eye.
They are not easily dislodged, making them ideal for use in sports.
They are less expensive at the time of initial purchase.
Availability of affordable, disposable lenses means little or no maintenance
On the other hand, rigid gas permeable lenses have important advantages
compared to soft lenses—
They can provide clearer vision. Their rigidity allows precise shaping.
This fact also means they can be used to correct serious astigmatism that
can't be corrected by standard soft lenses (however, special soft toric
lenses are available for this purpose).
They are easier than soft lenses to clean since they are much less prone
than soft lenses to collect protein deposits. Ease of cleaning means your
regular maintenance is easier and cheaper, and it means you're not likely
to suffer the discomfort that results from wearing dirty lenses.
They are safer. Since they can be kept clean, they are less prone than
soft lenses to harbor microorganisms that can infect the eye.
Since they don't absorb moisture, they can be worn by individuals with
relatively dry eyes.
They last longer than soft lenses both because they don't get so dirty
and because they are harder to scratch. While soft lenses typically are
good for a year or less, standard rigid lenses generally last twice that
long. However, lenses for extended wear (overnight) use have shorter life
Their relatively long lifespan and ease of cleaning mean their long-term
cost is likely to be lower than the cost of soft lenses.
Related to the two basic types of lenses, there are many variants—
One important type of variant is extended wear lenses. While regular lenses
are supposed to be removed each night for cleaning and to allow a period
for oxygen freely to reach the cornea, extended wear lenses are intended
for use with longer time periods between removals. There are both soft
and rigid gas permeable extended wear lenses.
Recent studies have indicated that long-term wear of soft lenses contributes
to weakening of the cornea's surface, as oxygen supply is restricted. This
weakened surface, in turn, means the cornea is up to 10 times more likely
than the cornea of someone who removes contacts daily to contract an infection
called ulcerative keratitis. (The chances of contracting ulcerative keratitis
increase with each consecutive night of wearing contacts.) This infection,
if not treated immediately, can result in partial or complete loss of sight.
Although studies indicate that even individuals who use extended wear lenses
have only about one chance in 500 of getting corneal ulcers, that may be
reason enough for you to steer clear of this option. If your doctor decides
that extended wear lenses are appropriate for you, don't leave them in
more than six nights in a row and be sure to follow recommended care and
cleaning instructions conscientiously.
Another option is disposable lenses. These are simply soft lenses that
are produced at low-enough cost that you can afford to throw them away.
Like other contact lenses, disposables are made in both daily wear and
extended wear versions. Daily wear disposables, which must be taken out
and cleaned each day, are designed to be kept for a specific time period.
The period might be two weeks, a month, or even three months. Extended
wear disposables, made to be worn continuously for either one day or one
week, spare you the trouble of cleaning your lenses. And since they are
disposable, they reduce the risk that you'll damage your cornea with the
deposits that can build up on lenses over time.
Since you avoid the need for cleaning chemicals, disposable extended wear
lenses might not cost you much more per year than regular extended wear
lenses. But wearing lenses for a week, even if they are new each week,
still has risks, because your eyes will get less oxygen than they otherwise
would. If you decide on disposable lenses, don't assume you can cheat and
keep them in extra days. That might save you money but cost you the health
of your eyes.
Additional contact lens options include lenses for astigmatism, bifocal
lenses, tinted lenses, and ultraviolet filtering lenses. There are also
lenses that have gas permeable rigid centers to allow oxygen transfer and
sharp vision and have soft perimeters for comfort. You can expect all these
options to cost more.
What you do when picking up your glasses or contacts is important. Check
When you pick up new glasses, they may have to be adjusted to fit your
face or to allow for difference in the height of your ears. The most important
factors to check after the adjustment are positioning and comfort. Be sure
there is not too much pressure on the ears or on the nose, that the frames
do not slip down your nose, and that both lenses are the same height and
an equal distance from your eyes.
Check the fit realistically. Turn your head sideways, up, and down several
times; turn sideways while looking downward; try chewing for 15 seconds.
Test if the glasses work for their intended purposes. If they are for general
use, check whether you can see clearly at a distance and read comfortably;
also check whether they remain properly positioned as you walk about.
When you pick up new contact lenses, the practitioner should carefully
check their fit on your eyes, using a slitlamp biomicroscope; and he or
she should also check how well you see, using a standard eye chart test.
If these checks indicate no problems, do your own tests of fit by looking
left, right, up, and down several times while holding your head in different
positions. And try blinking, squinting, and closing your eyes several times.
If the fit of contacts is not just right, new lenses may be needed or a
rigid lens may need to be altered. Once the fit seems perfect, most practitioners
will ask you to return at least once for an additional check. Sometimes
several visits will be required before a perfect fit is achieved, and sometimes
a good fit requires a change in basic lens design or material. This is
why proper follow-up care is an important part of buying contacts and choosing
When you are given the lenses, you should receive thorough instructions
on how to place them in your eyes and take them out, on the adaptation
schedule (how long you are to wear them each day during the first few weeks),
and on care and cleaning. Listen carefully. You should practice putting
in and taking out the contacts while the practitioner watches you to be
sure you know how to do it correctly. Ask for a copy of written instructions,
and read them right away. Remember, all contacts can cause permanent eye
damage if mishandled.
If frames you have purchased start to feel uncomfortable after a few hours,
return to your optician or optometrist, explain the problem, and ask for
further adjustments. This service should be free.
If discomfort seems to be from lenses—either glasses or contacts—and is
in the form of mild eyestrain or things appearing closer than you are used
to, wait a few days. Often your eyes and brain need a while to get used
to new lenses, even when they are the correct prescription and properly
If there is substantial discomfort with glasses, mild discomfort that persists
for more than a few days, dizziness, blurred vision, a tendency for you
to tilt your head when driving or working, or some other strange reaction,
return to your practitioner and explain the problem. The practitioner should
check the lenses to determine if their actual correction coincides with
your prescription. He or she should also check the positioning of the lenses
in the frame and the positioning of the frame on your face.
In the case of contacts, you can expect a little discomfort during the
adaptation period, particularly with rigid lenses, but there should be
no real pain. If there is, remove the lenses immediately and return to
the practitioner as soon as possible.
If someone who has sold you glasses that prove to be uncomfortable checks
the lenses and claims the refractive power and positioning match the prescription,
ask for an explanation of the cause for your complaints. If that doesn't
satisfy you, you won't be sure whether the seller is right and the original
prescription was wrong, or the seller is wrong and just doesn't recognize
his or her mistake. As a first step to resolve the problem, we recommend
taking a copy of the prescription and the glasses to a conveniently located
optician, explaining your problem, and offering to pay to have the refractive
power and positioning of the lenses measured. Then compare the measurements
to your prescription. The measurements will take only a minute or two.
Sometimes there will be no charge, but check in advance. If refractive
power and positioning match the prescription, go back to the optometrist
or ophthalmologist who wrote the prescription and explain the problem.
Your practitioner should check the glasses and might retest the refraction
of your eyes. Sometimes this is free, but check.
Another approach is to get another eye examination from a different optometrist
or ophthalmologist, making sure to explain your recent problems. This will
always cost you an additional examination fee. Do it only as a last resort.
Getting compensation for your wasted expenditures can sometimes be tricky.
Will the optometrist or ophthalmologist who wrote an erroneous prescription
pay for the new set of lenses? Will the optician who incorrectly filled
a proper prescription pay for the second visit you made to an optometrist
If the party at fault refuses a fair settlement, explain that you will
file a complaint. See below for contact information for agencies that handle
consumer complaints against opticians and optometrists.
In buying glasses or contacts you might use the services of an ophthalmologist,
an optometrist, or an optician. If you're like most of us, you can't remember
which of these "three Os" does what, even if you've been told a dozen times.
So here it is again.
Ophthalmologists are physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating
disorders of the eye. They are college graduates who have gone on to complete
four years of medical school, followed by an internship and additional
clinical training. They check eyes for vision problems, eye diseases and
abnormalities, and symptoms of general body disorders, such as diabetes
or hypertension. They treat eyes with drugs, surgery, and other means,
and they prescribe corrective eyeglasses and contact lenses. Almost all
ophthalmologists expect you to take your prescription and get your eyeglasses
from one of the other types of specialists, but quite a few do dispense
Optometrists are not medical doctors, but they are properly referred to
as doctors. They are college graduates who have completed four years of
further training after college. Like ophthalmologists, optometrists give
eye exams, looking for a wide range of eye problems as well as symptoms
of general health problems. Some use visual training techniques to counter
certain kinds of vision problems. They prescribe, and most dispense, both
eyeglasses and contact lenses.
Opticians are not required to have extensive training like the other two
types of specialists. In Virginia, they must complete two years of training
beyond high school and pass a state examination. In the District and in
Maryland, there are no training or examination requirements. Opticians
are not allowed to prescribe, but they fit, supply, and adjust eyeglasses
and, sometimes, contact lenses, on the prescription of an ophthalmologist
or optometrist. A few opticians grind the eyeglass lenses to the correct
prescription, but most purchase the lenses from a wholesaler and then fit
them into the frame.
For both eyeglasses and contacts, we found that the least expensive sellers
usually can be found online.
We shopped prices at a sampling of online retailers using the same list
of eyeglasses (including lenses for a simple prescription) we used to compare
prices among local stores. On average, prices at all of the online retailers
we shopped were substantially lower than all of the surveyed local stores—typically
45 percent lower. The lowest prices we could find were from CoolFrames.com,
which quoted prices that were about 63 percent lower than the average prices
quoted by surveyed local outlets. We found that online sellers not only
offered very low prices, but also sold a much wider selection of frames
than any of the local outlets.
We also compared prices for contact lenses from online retailers with those
quoted by local stores (for our price index scores reported on our Ratings Tables, we included fees for eye exams and fitting, but for this comparison
we looked just at the costs of the lenses). As with eyeglasses, we found
that, on average, prices at all of the online retailers we shopped were
substantially lower than the average prices found at local stores. The
lowest prices we could find were from BrandNameContacts.com, which quoted
prices that were about 53 percent lower than the average prices quoted
by surveyed local outlets. Compare this to Costco, the price leader among
local outlets, which quoted prices for contact lenses that were about 38
percent below the all-outlet average.
To sell you contact lenses, any seller will need a copy of a current prescription.
When ordering contacts online, you usually enter your prescription information
when placing your order and then the company calls your doctor to verify
it. At some sites, if you don't have your prescription on hand, the retailer
will contact your doctor to obtain it (although there may be a charge for
When buying eyeglasses online, you can buy just frames and have lenses
installed by local opticians or you can order eyeglasses with prescribed
lenses installed. If you order yours with lenses, you'll need to submit
information about your prescription. Unless you are replacing a pair of
frames with an identical pair, you may as well buy both frames and lenses
together online, since it likely will end up being a less expensive option
than involving a local outlet in the process.
There are some disadvantages to shopping for contacts and eyeglasses online.
It's possible that the prescription may be incorrectly filled or that the
seller may send the wrong contact lenses. But these problems could also
occur when dealing with a local seller.
If you are a new contacts wearer or are trying out a new type of lens,
you may want first to buy a minimum number of lenses from a local outlet
and then, if the lenses work out, plan on buying from online retailers
in the future. Even better, ask your doctor for a sample pair of lenses
to try out before you have your prescription filled. By taking this approach,
you ensure that any problems are identified right away, before paying for
a year's supply of lenses from any source.
For eyeglasses, unless you're replacing a pair of frames you already like
with an identical model, an obvious disadvantage to buying online is that
you can't try on various frames to see how they'll look on your face. One
strategy is to visit local stores, try on frames to find ones you like,
and then buy online. Also, some sites (such as, www.eyebuydirect.com,
www.framesdirect.com, www.glassesshop.com, and www.visionsking.com)
let you upload a picture of yourself and let you virtually try on frames.
Fortunately, even if you buy a pair of glasses online and aren't happy,
liberal return policies are the norm among online sellers of eyeglasses.
Another problem with ordering frames via mail-order is that you'll have
to find a local solution for any adjustments they'll need. Fortunately,
most optical shops make small adjustments for free even for consumers who
bought their frames elsewhere.
Below is a summary of the various kinds of complaints surveyed CHECKBOOK
subscribers shared about eyewear outlets they had used.
High prices—Mentioned in 30 percent of complaints.
Poor customer service—Store's staff was rude, unhelpful, unavailable, or
disorganized. Mentioned in 23 percent of complaints.
Promptness—There were long delays in receiving ordered merchandise. Mentioned
in 15 percent of complaints.
Poor advice—Store's staff was not knowledgeable or was untrained. Mentioned
in 11 percent of complaints.
Inferior product quality—Mentioned in 10 percent of complaints.
Provided inaccurate vision test or prescription—Mentioned in nine percent
Limited selection or variety of products—Mentioned in eight percent of
Could not properly fit eyeglass frames—Mentioned in eight percent of complaints.
Store too crowded/difficult to get assistance—Mentioned in six percent
Unfair or unfriendly return policies—Mentioned in five percent of complaints.
False or misleading sale prices or attempt to add on undisclosed extras—Mentioned
in four percent of complaints.
Ophthalmologist or optometrist not thorough, competent, or professional—Mentioned
in three percent of complaints.
District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
Capital Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Maryland Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division
St. Paul Place, 16th Floor
Baltimore, MD 21202
Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation
Henrico, VA 23233
District of Columbia Department of Health
825 N. Capitol Street NE, 2nd
Washington, DC 20002
Maryland Department of Health and Hygiene
201 Preston Street
Virginia Department of Health Professions
9960 Mayland Drive
Henrico, VA 23233