Are online prescription glasses worth the savings?

Are online prescription glasses worth the savings? (WKEF/WRGT)

DAYTON, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) - Anyone who's needed to go to the eye doctor knows how quickly bills can stack up. The cost of glasses or contacts isn't cheap, often times exceeding hundreds of dollars every year, and not everyone's insurance covers the cost.

FOX 45 investigated the effectiveness and accuracy of online prescription glasses. Senior producer Reba Chenoweth's prescription changed from a -4.00 to a -6.75 after having her first baby. She purchased one pair each from three different online companies -- Zenni, Coastal and EyeBuyDirect.

"I never expected that I'd be essentially blind," Chenoweth said. "After I got pregnant it all changed. I couldn't even see my daughter, Dorothy, very well just holding her."

Chenoweth said she's purchased several pairs of online prescription glasses in the past and never really had any issues. But after her vision worsened, the online glasses were no longer effective as she was experiencing blurred vision and headaches.

FOX 45 took the three pairs of online glasses to Middletown & Settlers Walk Eye Care. The optometrist discovered each of the prescriptions were slightly off, but the bigger issue was the optical center. Chenoweth was looking through 5 millimeters higher than where the optical center was ground on the lens.

"They [online companies] just put the optical center in the center of the lens," Dr. Brian Landrum, OD, MS said. "But where [Chenoweth] was looking through the lens was much higher because that's what rested comfortably on her face."

Specifying an optical center online is difficult.

"This is why you come to a brick and mortar place," Landrum said. "We take the measurements, we take the time, we fit your face, we take the measurements of the glasses on your face and then we send them to a lab, or we do them in house, and then we double check things. Before you put the glasses on to take them home we make sure measurements are accurate. That's not something you get when you buy them online."

The American Optometric Association conducted a study of online glasses in 2011. The AOA purchased 200 glasses, but only 154 of those were received. Nearly 45 percent of those received had incorrect prescriptions or safety issues and 19 percent of adult lenses failed impact resistance testing.

"If your frame breaks, who are you going to go see for service," Landrum said. "If you lose a nose pad, who are you going to see for service? If you come here, we do all of that complimentary."

But that's after the costs of the appointment and services. While the online prescription glasses no longer work for Chenoweth, they can still be effective for others with a weaker prescription.

"If your prescription is a -1.00 instead of a -7.00 you would deal with less induced prism," Landrum said. "It just depends on your tolerance. Are your symptoms going to be the same? Maybe. But maybe not quite as dramatic. Maybe you can wear them for a couple hours instead of one, or all day instead of half the day, but they're never going to be as accurate as they're made in person."

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