Study: People Who Buy Contacts Online More Likely To Take Poorer Care Of Their Eyes

The FDA has a set of specifications on proper eye care, and apparently people who buy their contact lenses online are less likely to follow those rules, reports a new study. The gap comes from having less trained, in-person medical attention and up-to-date prescriptions, and not poorer cleaning habits (although we wouldn’t recommend using dollar store saline solution just to save a few bucks).

Lens wearers who bought from their doctor were, for example, more likely to have had an eye exam in the past year or to have their doctors make sure their prescription was filled accurately and that the lenses fit properly.

One problem may be that the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act, which requires doctors to release patient prescriptions upon request, allows for “passive verification”—if the doctor doesn’t respond to a request to verify a valid prescription within 8 hours, it’s considered valid.

Of lens wearers in his study, 21 percent and 32 percent of online and store buyers, respectively, said they did not get an eye exam once a year — even though New York State, where the survey was done, allows lens prescriptions to be valid for only one year.

“Online contact lens buyers may put eyes at risk” [Reuters]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. pylon83 says:

    It’s my understanding the the store brand (off-brand) contact solution is made my one of the big companies, just packaged for Wal-Mart/Target/Walgreens, etc. So unless you need a particular brand due to irritation, the off-brand stuff is a great savings.

  2. homerjay says:

    @pylon83: Well, I think he’s talking about the same kind of store that sells Crust brand toothpaste with poison in it and not necessarily WalMart.

  3. fizzyg says:

    I could totally see that. The passive verification comes in really handy though, when you are about to run out and just can’t afford the time and expense of getting in to see the doctor. It seems in those cases that the poorer alternative would be to wear your remaining pairs far longer than recommended, also inviting problems.

    I think for those of us who have been wearing contacts for 10+ years with very little change in prescription, there should be some provision for less frequent doctor visits.

  4. eury says:

    Who uses saline solution anymore? I thought that the “multi-purpose” solution was the way to go regardless of the brand.

    Why do you smear Dollar Store? Give me answers.

  5. new and troubling questions says:

    @fizzyg: Totally, completely agree with that. There are people whose prescriptions seem to worsen progressively (and really need consistent checks), whereas I’ve had the same prescription for 6 years now, absolutely no change, and really love that I can get by with a passive verification.

  6. homerjay says:

    @eury: Those of us with ridiculously sensitive eyes actually have to rinse the multi=purpose off with saline before putting them in. Its VERY annoying.

  7. jmschn says:

    umm no. i buy my contacts right after i get my eye exam. typical generalization. besides, who wants to get gouged buying boxes of contacts from the optometrist when they can go online for a much cheaper price.

  8. wallspray says:

    The quality of the contacts on the market has risen greatly, so eye care isn’t as important as it was in the past. I haven’t taken out my contacts in 4 years, other than to change them monthly (or every couple of months, you know how it is) and every time I see an Optometrist, they tell me my eyes are fine.

  9. MercuryPDX says:

    OMG, he’s like totally flipping us off in that photo!

    @eury: Srsly? Because the dollar store only wants your dollar, and might even go so far as to sell you yak urine in a bottle marked “Saline Solution” if it means they’ll get it. It’s salty, it’s solution, don’t question, right?

    Medical supplies from a Dollar Store are not a good idea.

  10. eury says:

    @homerjay: thanks for the free education my eyes apparently are insensitive enough to go without. I do experience quite the discomfort for the first minute or so. Perhaps I need to make a trip to the Dollar Store and try this saline out.

  11. eury says:

    @mercurypdx: isn’t that how most stores work?

  12. teh says:

    Alternatively, you can try Costco. I still haven’t been able to find my contacts online for more than a dollar price difference. It’s one of the few reasons why I actually keep my membership.

  13. PinkBox says:

    That “study” is stupid. Just because you buy your contacts online doesn’t mean you’re less likely to make sure your eyes are getting their regular checkups, etc.

    I would have bought my toric lens online if I wasn’t lucky enough to have insurance that covered a year’s supply for me.

    All of this is redundant now however, since I had LASIK done last year. :)

  14. Parting says:

    I buy my contacts on-line for the price. 10$ difference a box is a lot when using daily contacts.

    I examine my eyes, only if I feel my sight is changing (aka only every 2 years or so)

  15. UpsetPanda says:

    @causticitty: Another toric user! Yeah, I don’t really have the option to buy online, since toric contacts are out the wazoo expensive. It kind of beats LASIK though, cause I don’t have the $$ for it right now.

  16. homerjay says:

    @causticitty: LASIK scares me. I hate people coming near my eyes, much less a razor blade and a lazer. I know its simple and fast, it still freaks me out.

  17. Dr. Eirik says:

    The passive verification stuff is crap. We get calls on our answering machine with some regularity that are left after hours or on weekends, and it’s not unusual for those to be expired Rx’s.

    Those of you who go years without an exam are also the ones that come into my office with a raging infection or giant papillary conjunctivitis, a -5.00 Rx and no back up glasses who get mad at *me* because I won’t refill your contacts and don’t want you to wear them for a while. Or you get caught off guard when my office finally manages to contact the company quickly enough to get them to cancel your Rx because you haven’t seen me in five years.

    And I don’t care that contacts have gotten ‘better’, because the new silicone lenses, which I do feel are far better, can have problems of their own. They tend to attract proteins more aggressively and if you’re over-wearing them you can develop inflammation along the underside of the eyelids. And yes, you can get away with overdoing it for years, maybe decades with the new lenses. I slept in the original Acuvue lenses back in the 1980’s for six years without an issue, then I had multiple problems that wrecked both corneas, and to this day I’ve got distorted vision in the right eye.

    But what do I know, I’m just an optometrist.

    BTW, there is a difference in solutions. Renu and to a lessor degree Complete have been found to cause some temporary staining on the corneas when used with silicone lenses. Opti-Free and Clearcare are better choices. Most common generics (like WalMart brand) are old formulations of Renu. Even if this month you find a generic made by Alcon, you have no way of knowing if it still will be made by them in three months, or how old the formula is. This is the link to the research: [www.staininggrid.com] Yes, the study in the US is funded by Alcon, but a Japanese study testing many of the same solutions is finding similar results.

  18. MercuryPDX says:

    @eury: No, not at all. The only place Saline solution (that’s may or may not be yak urine) costs a dollar is at the dollar store.

  19. newspapersaredead says:

    Okay so people who wear glasses get more checkups so that means they take better care of their eyes? How do you not know the people wearing contacts are actually taking better care of their eyes so consequently they DO NOT NEED to have as many checkups? Are the contact lens wearers going blind due to not going in for checkups? I feel like this story is missing something.

  20. SuperJdynamite says:

    Has anybody else experienced an intense burning sensation after leaving their contacts in CVS brand multi-purpose solution? I’ve used other store brand solutions with no problems, but the CVS brand makes my eyes feel like they’re on fire when I put my contacts in.

  21. RottNDude says:

    “More likely to take poorer care of their eyes”? Jesus H. Christ, did Consumerist hire my 4th grade nephew as an editor?

    Try:
    “Less likely to take care of their eyes”

  22. spinachdip says:

    @causticitty: @jmschn: Did you bother to read the article?

  23. warf0x0r says:

    @Dr. Eirik: Before they changed the rules my eye doctor basically held my prescription for ransom. Anytime I tried to use another “service” to buy the same lenses they never called back. I literally had to go the that eye doctor to order lenses at their price. Now I don’t have to have my prescription rejected, I mean verified, by eye doctors and I get contacts at a decent price from a third party.

    I’m impressed by your post, but I have to say that shady practices by Optometrists using the shield of required checkups for eye care led to the system we have now. If its going to revert to more optometrist invovlment people should still be able to get and use their prescription without it being held hostage or being price gouged.

  24. spinachdip says:

    @newspapersaredead: It’s exactly what the article says – compared to people who buy contacts offline, people who buy contacts online are less likely to follow FDA rules and recommendations. Everything else is filler.

    The article does not mention blindness, glasses or easter bunnies, because the study focused on behavior of contact lens users, and did not get into potential consequences, people who wear glasses or easter bunnies.

  25. rg says:

    Since you have to have a current prescription to order contacts online, I think this article is a little off. In order to get a prescription, you have to (or are supposed to) go see an eye doctor. There you get the same care weather you are buying your lenses from them or online. I order my lenses from Walgreens because they are more convenient than my Dr.’s office and I can get new lenses anywhere there is a Walgreens!

  26. mzhartz says:

    I have to agree with many of the comments. My prescription hasn’t changed in years, and honestly, I only go in about once every 2 years. I’m always told that my eyes are healthy, I’m just really near-sighted. I don’t object to regular check-ups, but it seems like once a year is a bit too much for a long time successful contact lens wearer.

    And @superjdynamite: yes, I do get irritation from CVS brand solution. I always figured it’s because my eyes are used to the good stuff instead of the cheap stuff.

  27. lockdog says:

    @SuperJdynamite: While I sympathize with your discomfort, not “intense burning sensation” from any crappy multipurpose solution can be as bad the intense burning sensation caused by the old hydrogen peroxide sterilizing solutions. If you forgot the magic pill that would turn the peroxide to saline overnight you would have about two seconds in the morning in which to realize something was amiss before your eye would clamp shut, and begin foaming profusely with the offending contact still in it, you frantically gouging half blind at your eyelids trying to get that damn thing out of there. ..Sorry, just wanted to share. I think in later versions the magic pill would change the saline some color so you knew it was safe, but I had switched to Renu by then.

  28. bohemian says:

    I use multi purpose only for contact cleaning, regular saline for rinsing. Multi purpose solution burns my eyes.

    I am glad they changed the prescription being held hostage situation. Since that change was made most doctors offices have brought down their contact prices to be at least understandable compared to contact lens retailers.

    I think most of the cost cutting on eyecare by consumers is because they spend so much of their health care dollars on other aspects of their health and don’t have much left when it comes down to eye care.

  29. SOhp101 says:

    I think the major issue here is that people who buy contacts online tend to be those who are a lot more price sensitive, and therefore are willing to take more risk by being ‘stingy’ with saline solution and even reusing it.

    It is NOT because of less professional medical attention–an honest optometrist will be more than willing to check if lenses fit even if you do buy it from a 3rd party.

  30. Jesse in Japan says:

    I make it a rule to always try the contact lenses on before I buy them.

  31. Maurik says:

    My question… so what?

    Whose problem is it that someone doesn’t take care of their eyes? The person who isn’t taking care of their eyes.

    I don’t really take care of my eyes, I wear contact lenses for up to 20 hours in a day, havn’t had an eye exam in over a year.

    In switzerland, where I buy my contact lenses I don’t even need a subscription, just walk in and ask for them.

    I do buy the top of the line lenses and solution (because I want to be sure that what I’m puttin in my eyes is good quality).

    My main problem with lenses is not the price, the availability, and since living in Switzerland, that’s stopped being a problem :)

  32. Anitra says:

    I wear contacts so infrequently, that this almost definitely applies to me. I’m finally on my last pair (out of seven) that I got three years ago. I need new glasses too, and I’m not sure how much hassle it’s going to be to try to get both types of prescriptions within one appointment. I’ve actually moved a few times since the last time I went to an optometrist, so I’m not sure where I should go, other than the “built-in” optometrist at my local LensCrafters.

  33. That70sHeidi says:

    Man, I have to soak my contacts in saline for a minute or so after taking them out of the overnights (I use Aquify). I rinse, then plop them in the lids with saline, then rinse again, then hope it doesn’t burn when I put them in.

    I switched to Aquify (which apparently works with the power of Satan!) because that opti-free no rub didn’t seem to do jack to clean the lenses overnight, rubbing or no. I might even switch back to the one with the pills you drop in.

  34. Dr. Eirik says:

    @Maurik:
    Not having had an eye exam in over a year isn’t always the problem, in Washington state the expirations are set for two years unless you can medically justify it. But here, if you keep getting contacts from an online supplier and come up with a major problem, then the doctor has the potential to be sued. It’s happend before.

    And just because contact lenses are comfortable does not mean they are healthy or safe. They can be way too tight or way too loose. These are things you won’t always be able to feel.

    @AnitraSmith:
    Finding a local doctor isn’t usually a problem. If you have insurance then they may be able to tell you who your closest OD is. Depending on the insurance company, it may be the local Lenscrafters or a local private doctor.

  35. missdona says:

    @eury: I live in an area that had the famous “Dollar Store Toothpaste”

    [www.snopes.com]

    Dollar stores are great for wrapping paper, but not healthcare products.

  36. crazyflanger says:

    HMM lets see I can pay $350 per year for a eye exam and a years worth of lenses from my eye doctor. Everytime I get more powerfull perscription my vision gets worse…….OR I could get an eye exam, buy lenses of the internets for about $150 for the year, but keep using that same perscription for a few years, and my vision stays where it is at. Hot damn.

  37. teapartys_over says:

    I don’t get people who constantly sleep in their contacts. I’ve had a few eye Drs tell me that even though it’s technically OK it’s bad general practice, your eyes need to breath. Maybe the optometrist on the forum can respond to this. Personally I don’t like the dry feeling of sleeping in my lenses, and it’s really not a big deal to take them out at night. If I’m ever stuck somewhere overnight I’ll wear them, but I can’t imagine leaving them in for months! It just seems like an unnecessary risk for allowing bacteria to grow, and your eyes are so important.

  38. anonymouscoworker says:

    Did anyone bother to read the article? The sample size is 121. That’s hardly representative of the entire population, and yet the journalist (or the researcher) has generalized the results to the entire population. Plus, the standard deviation isn’t given anywhere, so the article amounts to nothing more than hogwash. I call shenanigans.

  39. Truthie says:

    I buy the Target brand no-rub solution (in the green and blue box). It is the EXACT same solution as Bausch & Lomb Renu MultiPlus and is made for Target by B&L. $3 for two bottles sure beats $9 for 1.

  40. Gopher bond says:

    Yeah, I get my eyes checked out every few years and I usually buy a small supply from the office, then get replacements online for a few years until I get re-checked. I just copy the prescription information off the box and put Dr. Smith in the box with my home telephone number. They’ve never called, if they did and asked for Dr. Smith, I’d say, “This is him.”

    But I’ve completely turned off by several optometrists giving me chip about buying off the internet and not giving my prescription when I ask for it, or telling me they aren’t able to fix my glasses and won’t make me a new pair unless I get an exam. IF you’re not going to do the things I want, I’ll find a way to get the things I want. That’s basic human behavior and no set of laws or regulations is going to stop it.

  41. bbbici says:

    Probably because deal seekers are smart. Being smart allows one to see through the bulls**t of optometrists and dentists, who will tell you anything to sell more products and services.

    I wear my “two-week” disposables for up to 4 weeks, and my eyes are fine.

    My dentist has been telling me for 10 years to get my wisdom teeth pulled, despite not having problems with them. My $1.99 hockey mouthguard works just as well as the $300 model the dentist tried to hawk.

  42. spinachdip says:

    @anonymouscoworker: 121 is a fairly decent sized sample for a study like this – we’re not talking about TV ratings or polling for the presidential election. For a study that’s trying to get a general idea for behavior, you’re not going to get much more precision by upping the sample size.

  43. @homerjay: I’m waiting for them to come out with sedation LASIK. Like sedation dentistry. I need to be way too out of it to know what’s going on.

    I’m so freaked out by things getting near my eyes that last time I had the air-puff glaucoma test, I ended up in hysterics and took the optometrist with me. Thank God my new dude has the laser measuring one where nothing gets very close to my eye. (Although I didn’t know this when I made the appointment, and my eye doctor is also my neighbor, and it occurred to me as I sat in the waiting room that having full-on hysterics in front of my neighbor was probably not the best idea I ever had!)

  44. Gopher bond says:

    You know what I forget about? The last time I went to the eye “doctor” (really just a glorified Sunglass Hut promotee) I got my exam and contact lenses with an upgraded prescription. I had mentioned several times that I had no trouble seeing and that my contacts fit perfectly and that I had no trouble at all with them and wanted the same ones, if possible. I was a little peeved that they upgraded the prescription anyway but what the hell, but I started to have trouble with them fitting. My eyes would get really tired and I couldn’t keep them in longer than a few hours without irritation. Long story short, they messed up on one of the numbers in the prescription, the “Doctor” changed the diameter number even after I told him they fit well. Seemed he didn’t care what I had to say and that he measured it differently. What an ass.

    Yeah, I know some optometrist will refute this by saying my eyes just needed to get used to the new change or that maybe my old lenses were the wrong size. Yeah, and if my aunt had a…

  45. SpdRacer says:

    @fizzyg: I second that, my prescription has not changed since I got contacts. Yet, I still have to go to the optometrist to get an “exam”.

  46. itsgene says:

    Just an editorial note: that’s the most ridiculous headline I’ve seen in a while. “More likely to take poorer care of their eyes?” In other words, and in more grammar-friendly terms, “Less likely to take proper care of their eyes.”

  47. That70sHeidi says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Sedation LASIK? Don’t your eyes move around while you’re unconcious? You’d end up with half an eyeball and a giant gouge in your forehead!

  48. @That70sHeidi: LOL. Well, if they come at me when I’m awake, probably the eye and the entire body are moving, so either way it’s a loss. :D

    No, I figure like that twilight stuff they give you where your dopey enough not to care what’s going on or remember any of it, but you can still follow instructions.

  49. Rusted says:

    @JD: Anything beats LASIK. It’s irreversible and there are side effects. The risk is way up there too. Some people have no trouble, some people need a white cane and a dog. Mine was done five years ago. I was lucky. Just ten months of Dry Eye Syndrome and lots of artificial tears.