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How to get an eye exam and a new prescription

How to get an eye exam
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Getting regular eye checkups is essential for optimal eye health. Eye exams may not be seen as important or necessary, but without them, you may not know if your eyesight is declining. 

1. How often should I get an eye exam?

There’s no set rule, and it’s not uncommon for people to keep wearing their glasses for years as long as they can see well and the glasses are comfortable. On the other hand, some people choose to change frames often for fashion purposes. Others want to make the use of a Flexible Spending Account or Health Savings Account before the calendar year runs out.

The Mayo Clinic recommends eye exams for children once before age three, then another eye exam between ages three and five, and an exam every year or two after that. Adults over 30, in good health and without vision problems, should get an eye exam every two to four years.

However, if you wear glasses or contact lenses, the Mayo Clinic recommends more frequent eye exams – even if you don’t think you need to get new glasses. It also urges individuals to get frequent exams if they are at risk for vision problems from a chronic disease like diabetes or if they have a family history of eye problems.

2. Who can write you a prescription to buy glasses online?

Virtually every online glasses store requires you to provide a prescription for corrective lenses. But where do you get one?

Typically, a local optometrist can give you an eye exam and write a prescription. Optometrists are not medical doctors, but they can diagnose eye disorders and abnormalities. They are also authorized to prescribe medication for some eye diseases.

You can also get a prescription from an ophthalmologist, who is a medical doctor. Ophthalmologists can handle vision-related medical procedures, prescribe necessary eye medications and perform eye surgery. Some ophthalmologists get additional training and sub-specialize in areas such as glaucoma, the retina, the cornea, pediatrics, neurology and plastic surgery, according to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology.

3. Are prescription sunglasses necessary?

Not only are sunglasses cool to wear, but they also serve a vital purpose in protecting your vision. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) says, “The sun can be harmful to your eyes and skipping protection for them altogether can be dangerous.” This applies whether you need glasses for vision correction or if you have 20/20 vision.

“The most important part of any pair of sunglasses – prescription or not – is the UV-blocking lens. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays contribute to a number of eye problems, including cataracts, cancer and growths on the eye,” according to the AAO.

For people who need glasses to see clearly, prescription sunglasses can be a boon. With them, there’s no more fiddling around with snap-on dark lenses, which might not block all or close to 100 percent of UV rays – something that’s essential for the best vision protection. You also don’t need to bother with contact lenses to actually see what you’re doing. Buying prescription sunglasses online is similar to buying regular glasses, and virtually all the companies we reviewed offer a variety of sunglasses.

4. Can I buy glasses online without a prescription?

While you can buy fashion-only glasses online without a prescription, if you need them for vision correction, you must have a current prescription. To buy prescription glasses online, you must input data from your eye doctor into the order form. Often, you can email or fax your prescription information if you prefer. In case you don’t have a copy of your prescription or are unsure about how to read it, many online glasses companies can contact your eye doctor’s office to get the necessary information.

Reputable online glasses stores strongly encourage customers to get regular eye exams. Some, like Eyeglasses.com, even have locator features on their websites to help you find a local eye doctor.

If you have excellent vision naturally or wear contact lenses but like glasses for their stylish flair, you can buy non-prescription glasses from many providers. In most cases, you need to pay for the lenses, though non-prescription lenses cost much less than corrective lenses. Still, some online stores include very basic non-prescription lenses in the price of the frames. In addition, some companies let you enhance non-prescription lenses with extras like anti-reflective coating, anti-scratch coating or even UV protection. However, you need to pay for those features as well.

5. Are those lens coatings really necessary?

As you order glasses online, you’ll notice the sites always offer a number of lens coatings. They jack up the price enough that you might wonder if any of them are absolutely necessary.

Certain coatings can make your lenses more durable and prolong the life of your glasses. Scratches, glare from strong sunlight and glare from computer screens can hamper your vision, and in many cases, they cause eyestrain and headaches. Lens fogging can also cause vision problems.

Anti-scratch coatings are usually always worthwhile. “Today, most eyeglass lenses, including high-index lenses and lenses made of polycarbonate and Trivex, have a built-in scratch-resistant coating,” according to a 2017 article in the online publication AllAboutVision.com.

However, blog author Dr. Gary Heiting, an optometrist, says lenses with scratch-resistant coating on the front and back have a harder surface that resists scratches caused by being dropped or being cleaned with something rough like a paper towel.

AR coating is highly recommended for all eyeglass lenses, but particularly for polycarbonate and high-index lenses, which reflect more light than regular glass or plastic lenses if anti-reflective coating is not applied

Dr. Gary Heiting

Anti-reflective coating can cut down on or even get rid of glare from light reflecting off your lenses. This coating is especially useful for night driving, reading and using a computer. “AR coating is highly recommended for all eyeglass lenses, but particularly for polycarbonate and high-index lenses, which reflect more light than regular glass or plastic lenses if anti-reflective coating is not applied,” Heiting says.

If you live in an area that gets very cold, an anti-fog coating could save your life, since fogged up glasses can hamper your ability to see once you come inside a warm place. There is a coating called Fog Free that gets rid of moisture condensation on lenses and prevents glasses from fogging up. “Fog Free can be applied to plastic, polycarbonate and other eyeglass lenses, including high-index lenses and Transitions photochromic lenses. The anti-fog coating is applied to the lenses before they are cut to fit into your frame at the optical lab. Ask your optical retailer about pricing and availability,” Heiting says.

You can also try Optifog lenses. For them to work, you need to apply a drop of Optifog Activator onto each lens, then use a microfiber cloth to smooth the liquid fully across both sides of the lenses. One drop per lens eliminates fog for as long as a week.

In addition, you may want a coating that blocks ultraviolet (UV) light. The sun’s rays can contribute to cataracts, retinal damage and other problems, according to Heiting. This coating helps protect your sight. Most plastic prescription lenses already have some UV light protection, but you can opt to pay for a UV-blocking dye that gives you complete protection. You don’t need this coating if you get photochromatic, polycarbonate or high-index plastic lenses.