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Thinking of buying eyewear online…

Statement in Response to CBC Marketplace (February 24, 2012)

On February 24, CBC Television’s Marketplace program featured a story on the price of prescription eyeglasses. Absent from the story was any reference to eye health or acknowledgement of the health risks associated with patients purchasing from unregulated retailers or the safeguards provided by regulations.

As Doctors of Optometry, our key priority is our patients’ vision and eye health. In our role, we monitor the health of your eye for eye diseases that lead to blindness, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, and also detect for systemic health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which can be detected during a routine eye exam. Regular, routine eye examinations are the best way to protect life-long vision. The regulatory systems across the country were established with patients’ safety at their core. British Columbia is an anomaly where recent regulatory changes, as highlighted in the Marketplace story, put the eye health and overall health of British Columbians at risk.

It is important to note that we support consumer choice in eyewear dispensing as long as it is a regulated practice, meaning there are safeguards (i.e., a valid prescription and a regulated provider) in place to ensure patients’ eye health. Featured prominently as a source for the Marketplace story was an individual the Ontario Superior Court of Justice determined was operating in contravention of the law, and by doing so, was placing Ontarians’ health at risk.

As Doctors of Optometry, we are proud to be on the frontline of protecting the eye health of Canadians.

 

Glasses

Prescription eyeglasses are classified and regulated as medical devices by Health Canada. Glasses purchased online may not meet Health Canada’s standards.

To ensure that your optical prescription is not expired (one or two years old), you should have your eyes examined by an optometrist or ophthalmologist regularly. Online sellers cannot assess your overall eye health and are therefore not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a regulated eye care professional.

Even with 20/20 vision, 1 in 7 Canadians will develop a serious eye disorder

Once you have a prescription you may purchase eyewear from a regulated eyewear provider. These trained professionals have the know-how to properly interpret your prescription and help you select the frames, lenses and lens coatings that are best suited to your individual eye-health needs.

Getting proper eye measurements and advice is the only way to ensure your prescription provides ideal vision correction and is safe. The curvature and thickness of the lenses, the location of the optical centre in the frames and the position of bifocal or progressive lenses (if required) can affect your vision correction and is best determined in person by a vision health professional. Proper fitting eyeglasses will help you avoid fatigue, headaches, nausea, double vision, and pain or pressure around the nose or ears.

The CAO website has a find an optometrist feature to help you take the first step toward making an appointment for an eye health examination.

Eye health means more than just getting new glasses

 

Contact Lenses

Shopping for contacts on the internet may be convenient, but did you know that regulations exist for prescribing and dispensing contact lenses that are intended to protect consumers? Many online contact lens retailers are not regulated.

There are increasing concerns following reports of contact lens wearers experiencing eye health problems after buying lenses online, without getting proper eye care and professional advice.

All medical devices sold in Canada must have a Canadian Medical Device License, including contact lenses. Lenses that are sold online may not have the appropriate license and therefore would not be approved for distribution in Canada as they may not meet Health Canada’s requirements for safety.

Sales of contact lenses are regulated to protect consumers from eye health problems. Unfortunately, unregulated internet retailers are not obligated to check ‘specifications’ provided by the eye care professional, before supplying corrective lenses. Overseas distribution channels may have ‘grey market’ (counterfeit) product and risk being exposed to extreme temperature changes during transportation affecting the integrity of the contact lenses.

Contact lenses come into direct contact with the eye, one of the most delicate and sensitive organs of the human body, and carry a risk of irritation and infection that can lead to long- term problems for the wearer. It’s important to have lenses prescribed and fitted by a vision health professional or you may actually damage your eyes!

When you are professionally fitted for lenses several elements are evaluated including eye curvature, tear chemistry and the prescription itself. Your optometrist will chose an eye care solution for you based on compatibility of different lens materials, base curves and eye physiology. It’s not one size fits all.

Two studies1,2 confirm increased risks associated with purchasing contact lenses online. The risk of serious infection was found to be nearly five times higher. See the HC site on Buying Medical Devices over the Internetwww.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/med/med_mat-eng.php.

The CAO website has a find an optometrist feature to help you take the first step toward making an appointment for an eye health examination or contact lens assessment.

Eye health is not just about getting new glasses

  1.  The incidence of and risk factors for contact lens related microbial keratitis in Australia and New Zealand Edwards, Catherine Patrice, Optometry & Vision Science, Faculty of Science, UNSW handle.unsw.edu.au/1959.4/3
  2.  Contact lenses purchased over the Internet place individuals potentially at risk for harmful eye care practices; Joshua Fogel, Ph.D., and Chaya Zidile www.aoa.org/documents/optm‐447‐Fogel.