What To Know Before Buying Glasses Online

Posted on Mar 27, 2022

When it comes to purchasing glasses, it can be an overwhelming experience. There are so many options—what do I actually need vs what is a frivolous upcharge?

Better yet, why are glasses so expensive? It is no wonder as to why many individuals are turning to online retailers to purchase their prescription glasses.

While buying glasses online may be an appealing offer, there are some things you should be aware of and watch out for when purchasing glasses online.


Understanding your Prescription

Glasses prescriptions can be confusing. We’ll go through the basics here, but for more detailed information about glasses prescriptions be sure to check out our previous article “Understanding Your Glasses Prescription”.

Near-sighted individuals, or individuals who can see well up close but struggle to see far away, are called myopes.

Prescriptions to correct myopia are “minus” prescriptions, denoted with the symbol (-).

Far-sighted individuals, or individuals who can see well far away but struggle to see up close, are called hyperopes.

Prescriptions to correct hyperopia are “plus” prescriptions, denoted with the symbol (+).

Individuals can also have astigmatism. Astigmatism can be present in conjunction with myopia or hyperopia, or it can occur on its own.

Astigmatism occurs when the eye has two radii of curvature, making it shaped more like a football rather than a baseball.

Astigmatism creates two focus points with a blur circle in between the two. To correct this, an individual will need a spherocylindrical prescription—or a prescription that corrects vision in both meridians.

The first set of numbers in a prescription is considered the “sphere” power. This is the part that corrects any myopia or hyperopia.

The second set of numbers in a prescription is considered the cylinder power. This is the part that corrects the astigmatism.

The third set of numbers in a prescription (when applicable) is the axis of the cylinder power. This is how we make the lenses properly align to correct the astigmatism of an astigmatic eye. If the axis of a spherocylindrical lens is off, it can result in serious distortion and blur.

In some prescriptions, you may see the word “ADD” with a fourth set of numbers. This is the additional power needed for those who wear bifocals, trifocals, or no-lined bifocals (i.e. progressive or PALs).


Here’s a few examples:

-1.00 -0.50 X 180: -1.00 is the sphere power, used to correct this person’s myopia. -0.50 is the cylinder power, used to correct a person’s astigmatism, oriented at axis 180.

+2.00 SPH: +2.00 is the sphere power, used to correct this person’s hyperopia. This person does not have astigmatic correction.

+3.00 -2.50 X 090 ADD 2.00 : +3.00 is the sphere power, used to correct this person’s hyperopia, -2.50 is the cylinder power used to correct the individual’s astigmatism, oriented at axis 90. This person requires an additional power for reading, which is +2.00. This is the power that will be found in the bifocal portion of the lens.


Different Lens Materials

Like everything in life, we have different options.

Believe it or not, glasses lenses actually are typically no longer made from glass. Glass is heavy and shatters easily, creating a safety issue for true “glass” wear.

Over the years, other new lens materials have been developed to replace the traditional glass material. The most common types of materials used to make glasses lenses today are: plastic, polycarbonate, Trivex, and high-index plastic.

Plastic is the basic lens material. It is the heaviest in weight, thickest, and scratches the easiest. It has decent optics to allow for clear vision when kept in good condition.

Polycarbonate is the “safety lens”. It is always recommended for children, athletes, and those who may be monocular.

Polycarbonate is thinner than plastic, making it lighter in weight by default. Polycarbonate lenses are more scratch resistant and “spider web” on impact, rather than shattering like plastic does.

Trivex is a step above polycarbonate. Trivex has a similar profile to polycarbonate in the fact that it is roughly the same thickness and weight, but Trivex has better optical quality through reduction of higher order aberrations.

Hi-index lenses are the Cadillac of lens materials. Hi-index lenses are the thinnest, lightest, and have the greatest optical clarity for those with higher prescriptions.

Since these lenses are technically made from plastic, they do have the tendency to scratch more easily that the polycarbonate and Trivex counterparts, and therefore a scratch coating or anti-reflective coating is often recommended in addition to hi-index lenses.


Different Lens Upgrades

Now we come to the fun stuff—different lens upgrades!

Photochromic lenses, often called transitions, are specialized lenses that turn dark when activated by UV light. Many individuals like these because their every-day pair of glasses also functions as sunglasses when outdoors.

Photochromic lenses now come in variety of colors including grey, brown, green, and even a mirrored look!

Anti-reflective coatings can be added to lenses to reduce glare from overhead lights, headlights at night, computer screens, etc.

Anti-reflective coatings come in variety of options but are especially useful for those who have astigmatism, drive frequently at night, and/or work regularly on computers.

Anti-reflective coatings work by reflecting certain wavelengths of light, thus reducing light scatter within the eye (the underlying cause of glare and haloes around lights).

Blue light filters are a new type of anti-reflective coating used to filter out harmful blue light emitted from electronics. Blue light filters have been shown to help reduce migraines, light sensitivity, and regulate circadian rhythm.

Scratch coatings are another addition you can add to your lenses to make them more scratch resistant. This does not mean the lenses will be impenetrable—simply less likely to get scratched from everyday wear-and-tear.

You can also tint or add polarization to a set of lenses to create prescription sunglasses. The tint is the color the lens will be (brown, grey, purple, blue, yellow, etc.) whereas polarization is a filter which blocks certain wavelengths of light to reduce glare and provide more comfortable vision when outdoors.


Benefits from Shopping Local

Purchasing your glasses from your local optometrist has more benefits than just supporting local business.

For starters, we’ll state the obvious. It is always nice to have a large selection of frames that you can try on in-office.

While some online retailers allow you to select a set number of frames to try on at home, there is a limitation to how many frames they will send you. Then you have the hassle of making sure you return the unwanted frames on time before they charge you for all of them.

This back-and-forth process of ordering frames to try, sending the frames back, having the lenses put in the frames and resent back to you can be quite time consuming and frustrating.

Most private practice doctors can get your glasses made and dispensed to you within 10 business days (or 2 weeks).

Not only that, but in an in-person optical you have the ability to ask the professionals questions.

How thick will my lenses be in this frame? Does this frame fit my face well? What upgrades are recommended to thin my lenses, or reduce glare from the computer? Can you help me choose a frame that will fit over my hearing aid? All of these questions can be answered easily by an optician—they’re the glasses experts and would love to help!

Another major benefit to purchasing glasses from your local optometrist is that they accept many major vision insurance policies. You’ll need to double check that your policy is accepted at the given office in question, but most offices accept most vision insurance plans (EyeMed, VSP, Medicaid, Medicare, etc.).

At this time, no online retailer excepts vision insurance. This means you have to pay out of pocket for your glasses, whereas using your vision insurance will often offset your costs in office to at least greatly reduce the cost of your glasses, making them much more affordable.

Lastly, of course your doctor will be grateful for your support, but your doctor will also have better control over your prescription.

Eye doctors are humans too, while uncommon, sometimes they make mistakes. Complicated prescriptions may need tweaking. Perhaps there was miscommunication between what you wanted and the prescription written. And sometimes, glasses just don’t come back “right”.

When you purchase your glasses through your eye doctor, they have the ability to remake your glasses within a certain time period. If something is off, perhaps the change was too big and you cannot adapt to the new prescription, you hate your new no-line bifocal, the line on your new lined bifocals is too low, etc., your doctor has a little time to get the error fixed, typically with no cost to you.

This is because your optometrist and the lab they send their glasses to have a contact with this buffer built in.

If you take this prescription from the office and fill it elsewhere (online, at a big box-store, etc.), you lose this ability. You can get the glasses made elsewhere and take them back to your doctor to have them look at it, but your doctor will be unable to change the lenses that are in that frame since a third party is now involved.

This third party may have a remake policy, however you will have to jump through several loops and may be out quite a bit of money, which is always frustrating.

Not only is remake policy beneficial, but most offices also have a warranty on their glasses. If the frame breaks or the lenses scratch within a certain time period due to a manufacturing error, your doctor will be happy to work with you to get the issue repaired.

This is not the case with most, if not all, online retailers.


Buying Glasses Online

In conclusion, can you purchase your glasses online? Of course! We have seen many decent pairs of glasses worn by happy patients who have purchased their glasses online. Just be careful and go into the process with realistic expectations.

Our shortened list of things to watch for when purchasing online is:

Be wary of purchasing online if you have a complex prescription (astigmatism above -0.75 diopters, myopia above -2.00, hyperopia above +2.00, bifocals, and no lined bifocals)

Know the warranty/remake policy (if one exists)

Look at the lens material you are purchasing

Ask for your PD’s (pupillary distance) from your optometrist at your appointment

Following these suggestions will help you make the best informed decision in regards to your glasses. As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to your eye doctor with more questions!


Our eye doctors at Eye Theory in Houston, TX excel in the prescription of contact lenses, glasses and various eye diseases.  Call our optometrist at 832.831.7386 or schedule an appointment online if you would like to learn more about your buying glasses purchase options.  Our eye doctor, Dr. Jonathan Tsao, provides the highest quality optometry services and eye exams in the Midtown, Downtown, Museum District, Montrose, East Downtown, and Southside Commons (Southside Place) vicinities of Houston, Texas.

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