How can I get a contact lens prescription without buying lenses from the same place?
August 10, 2010 6:34 PM   Subscribe

How can I get a contact lens prescription without buying lenses from the same place?

Today I went to a certain Canadian glasses chain to get an eye exam for a contact lens prescription. The doctor gave me a glasses prescription, then the sales staff told me they'd do the contact lens fitting themselves. They said I'd need to buy the lenses from them to have a fitting done. Before (in the US, if that matters), I always saw one optometrist who handled everything, then gave me a contact lens prescription I could use to buy online.

I assume the glasses prescription can't be used to buy contacts since the cylinder numbers seem completely different from before - they're not even an option on most lens types I've looked at.

Is that normal for optometrists not to be involved in the lens fitting? I find it odd that an optometrist isn't needed to convert the glasses prescription to contact lens and ensure that it fits on the eye properly. Are there places that let you pay for the fitting without buying from them? Since it apparently doesn't require any specialized medical training, can I do the conversion? (If you buy lenses online in Canada, you don't need a doctor's prescription).
posted by pravit to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As far as I understand, contact lens fitting isn't typically included in the usual eye exam costs (which includes a prescription for glasses). It seems that the place you went to would waive the fee if you purchased contacts from them (and staff who do the actual fitting are likely trained optometrists themselves). Can't you call them and ask them if they'll just do a fitting for a fee?
posted by halogen at 6:42 PM on August 10, 2010

When I got my contact lens prescription, the optometrist (a new one, who did the most bloody thorough job I've ever had) basically translated in his head what my myopia and (mild) astigmatism would be in a non-toric contact lens, handed me samples, and told me to come back in a week (included in the fee) to see if it's right. If it is, then that would be my prescription. It was expected then that I'd buy contacts there after, but I suppose I could've walked out the door without and just bought the contacts online if I wanted, once the trial was over.

Since it didn't involve any measuring, but ballparking and subsequent trial-and-error, I suppose the sales staff can do it too based on your glasses prescription, but I'd still feel a little weird. I've had a friend who just handed the staff at an optical store her glasses, they did the readouts and did a translation for her into whatever (which is what I suspect is your case), but I like having an optometrist do it. My friend's contacts work fine for her, and I guess there's some more knowledgeable person other than sales staff doing the translation, so you probably'll be fine either way.

I'm in Canada too, FWIW.
posted by Hakaisha at 6:42 PM on August 10, 2010

Some places are a bit precious about releasing that kind of information because they think you'll buy elsewhere. If you think there's going to be a problem then a convenient excuse is that you need your prescription for an overseas drivers license.
posted by holloway at 7:01 PM on August 10, 2010

They can be precious all they want, but there are laws that say you are entitled to a copy of your eye prescription.
posted by rhizome at 7:20 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure about Canada, but in the U.S., a typical eye exam costs $40-$80 and the lens fitting (which, yes, is distinct from a glasses rx, at least for most people) will run you another ~$20. The optometrist is required to release your rx to you.

I would insist that they give me my full rx (glasses, contacts, and pupilary distance) or ask for a refund and go elsewhere.

(I never buy glasses or contacts at the optometrist. I buy $8 glasses from Zenni Opitcal. Contacts fluctuate in price more, so I shop around and don't pay more than $15/box. I spend less than $100 every other year on two pairs of glasses, a pair of rx sunglasses, and twenty-four pairs of planned replacement contacts.)
posted by Leta at 7:22 PM on August 10, 2010

Woops, forgot about Canadafilter. Here you go.
posted by rhizome at 7:50 PM on August 10, 2010

I hope you're not relying on a "prescription" from G---- G------, because they're a sham, total quacks, with fake optometrists - they don't say they're optometrists but they won't correct you if you assume they are. They're just retail clerks in lab coats and they've been in trouble with the law for years, but their owner is one slippery son of a bitch.
posted by zarah at 10:53 PM on August 10, 2010

In the US at least, one way to take advantage of the law, which I've done myself, is to go get an eye exam, then make a note (mental or otherwise) when they tell you the prescription. If they're jerks about it and won't give it to you (which, as others pointed out is illegal but still done) just go online and order the lenses, providing the online supply company with the prescription & the optometrists name. If the optometrist's office refuses to verify the prescription (or just doesn't call the online contact lens place back within a short time) they are allowed to sell you the lenses anyway.

But countries have very different systems in place for this sort of thing. For example in Denmark you can only buy contact lens solution from optometrists... they don't sell it at grocery or pharmacies.
posted by jardinier at 6:24 AM on August 11, 2010

I assume the glasses prescription can't be used to buy contacts since the cylinder numbers seem completely different from before - they're not even an option on most lens types I've looked at.

Often times the eyeglasses prescription can be used as a contact lens prescription, sometimes though they'll need to make slight corrections because a contact sits closer to eye. The extra fitting is to determine the curve of your cornea and, diameter of the iris (plus a few things I've forgotten) which gives them a ballpark range of contacts that might fit you. And, the contact lens manufacturers themselves don't necessarily make contacts with a huge number of variables depending on the brand, some only offer only one lens diameter and, one base curve option. A fitting is the only way to know for sure which off the rack option is best for you.

A doctor, optometrist or optician are the only ones who can dispense a prescription in Ontario, but I don't know if there is a black letter law on the books that says who can operate the machinery that takes the contact lens measurements. They're also legally bound to give you a copy of your prescription. I would shop around, not all stores have a strings attached policy that demand you buy contacts from them in order to get measured for them. The place I went to charged a fee that would be deducted from the final purchase price if I wound up buying a pair from them.

(I went through this a few months back, going in for a contact lens prescription and, walking out with one for eyeglasses. There might be a few helpful answers from my question. And here is a page that demystifies what all those numbers mean.)
posted by squeak at 7:39 AM on August 11, 2010

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