A study was published this past September that looked at the safety and accuracy of glasses ordered online – including children’s glasses: “Safety and compliance of prescription spectacles ordered by the public via the Internet,” by Karl Citek, published in Optometry, vol. 82, iss. 9 , pgs 549-555, Sept. 2011 The full text of the article is available here.
The study found that nearly half of the glasses ordered were either the wrong prescription, the wrong lens style, or the lenses failed impact testing.
It’s important to note that this study looked only at online retailers where you can buy both the frames and prescription lenses online. Cases where the frames are purchased online, but have the lenses filled by a local optical shop would not have the problems identified in this study.
Overall, the study found that nearly half of all glasses they ordered online had a problem, either with the prescription being wrong, the lens type (single vision vs bi-focal) being wrong, or with the lenses not passing impact resistance testing – and that problem existed regardless of the cost of those glasses online. Probably the most disturbing finding of the study was that in 25% of the glasses for children, the lenses failed impact testing. Given how active kids can be, it’s extremely important for our children’s glasses to not shatter on impact. The study did find that all of the polycarbonate lenses that were ordered did pass the impact resistance testing. Some of the children’s glasses also had incorrect prescriptions.
A couple of interesting pieces from that study include the fact that the rate of problems with prescription errors was similar to the error rate at traditional optical labs, it’s just that when you order glasses through a traditional optical shop, there are additional checkpoints, and nearly all the problems have been caught and correct before the glasses even make it to the shop. The article also mentioned that some of the researchers had difficulties placing the orders correctly with some of the vendors, this despite the fact that the researchers were quite knowledgeable about eyewear. So if you’ve felt confused by some of those sites, you’re not alone.
So given this study, I would be much more hesitant to purchase glasses online for Zoe, and I would not recommend it for a primary pair glasses. If you do order glasses online, you can – and should! – take the glasses in to your eye doctor. He or she can verify that the prescription is correct. In fact, you should do that with glasses that you purchase from a traditional optical shop, too. Your eye doctor will not be able to test the impact resistance of the lenses, though (well, at least not without breaking the lenses). I would only order polycarbonate lenses online, since the material is extremely strong and is unlikely to shatter on impact. Also, make sure that you understand the return policy for the glasses you purchase, so that if there is a problem, you know how to return the glasses.
Thanks to the EyeWorks facebook page, which is where I first heard of this study.