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Buying Contact Lenses on the Internet, by Phone or by Mail: Questions and Answers.

Buying Contact Lenses on the Internet, by Phone or by Mail: Questions and Answers

The FDA wants you to be a wise consumer if you buy contact lenses, an FDA-regulated product, on the Internet, over the phone or by mail. While such purchases are often a convenient and economical way to get lenses, Internet, phone, or mail orders require consumers to exercise some caution. The following questions and answers should help you take simple precautions to make your Internet, phone or mail purchase safe and effective for you.

What do I need to consider when buying contact lenses on the Internet, by phone or by mail?

* Is my contact lens prescription current? You should always have a current, correct prescription when you order contact lenses.

* If you have not had a check-up in the last one to two years, you may have problems with your eyes that you are not aware of, or your contact lenses may not correct your vision well.

* The expiration date for your prescription is currently set by your state. Some require a one-year renewal, some a two-year renewal, while other states leave it to your doctor to decide.

* Never order lenses with a prescription that has expired.

What does a valid contact lens prescription include?

* This depends on the state where your doctor practices. State laws often define a prescription's requirements. In states without a legal definition, the prescribing doctor includes some minimum elements.

* The minimum elements usually include your name and the doctor's name along with the contact lens brand name and material. Also, lens measurements such as power, diameter and base curve are included.

* More detailed prescriptions will include directions for safe use such as wearing schedule, whether lenses are for daily or extended wear, the number of refills, whether lens material substitutions are allowed and an expiration date.

* Some Internet sites ask for information about your doctor so that they may check the prescription with your doctor. If they do check with your doctor and receive a verbal okay, they comply with the Federal prescription device regulation. If the company does not check, then they have not obtained a valid prescription. Some state laws require that a written prescription be presented.

Will I get in legal trouble if I buy my contact lenses on the Internet, by phone or by mail if I don't have a copy of my prescription?

* You won't break any laws, but the company is selling you a prescription device as if it were an over-the-counter device. This is a violation of the Federal prescription device regulation. Often, the company will say that they will check back with your doctor to confirm the prescription. However, that may not always happen.

* Some Internet sites will allow you to fill out a chart with the ordering information about your contact lenses and ask you to fill in your doctor's name and phone number. The site may not ask for an actual copy of your prescription.

* Since individual states have different licensing requirements for optical dispensers, enforcement of prescription device sales has usually been left to the state in which the company selling the contact lenses is located.

What harm can be done if I don't have regular check-ups with my doctor or I order lenses without a valid prescription?

* At your check-up, your eye doctor will re-evaluate the fit of your contact lenses and observe any changes in your cornea caused by your lenses. You will benefit by having a correct, current prescription and you may avoid serious problems, especially if you wear your lenses on an extended or overnight schedule.

* Though infections of the cornea are rare, severe cases can cause loss of vision and even blindness. During regularly scheduled visits, your eye doctor looks for irregularities that, if left untreated, may lead to severe problems. These irregularities often have no symptoms and you may be totally unaware of them.

* Contact lens wear causes many changes to cells and tissues of the eye, and sometimes wearing contact lenses can damage the cornea (the clear window of the eye). Even if you are currently experiencing no problems, the lenses may be causing damage to your eyes. Regular check-ups will reduce the likelihood of damage going undetected.

* Contact lenses that are not properly fitted by an eye doctor might not work well, or even worse, may harm your eyes.

* Ask your eye doctor how often to have a check-up.

Will regular check-ups help prevent me from having problems with my contact lenses?

* Anyone wearing contact lenses runs an increased risk of corneal infection. Regular check-ups will help reduce your chances of having a problem. At your check-up, your doctor may find something that requires refitting with a new lens or requires modifying your wearing schedule.

What can I do to avoid serious problems with my contact lenses?

* Ask your eye doctor how often you should have a check-up and see the doctor according to the recommended schedule.

* You run a greater risk of developing serious eye problems such as infection if you wear lenses overnight.

* Order your contact lenses from a supplier you are familiar with and know is reliable. Contact lenses are often more complex than they appear.

* Request the manufacturer's written patient information for your contact lenses. It will give you important risk/benefit information, as well as instructions for use.

* Beware of attempts to substitute a different brand than you presently have. While this may be acceptable in some situations, there are differences in the water content and shape between different brands. The correct choice of which lens is right for you should only be made based on examination by your doctor, not over the phone.

* Carefully check to make sure the company gives you
 * the exact brand, * lens name, * power,

 * sphere, * cylinder, if any, * axis, if any,

 * diameter, * base curve, and * peripheral curves, if any.

* If you think you have gotten an incorrect lens, check with your eye doctor. Don't accept a substitution unless your doctor approves it.

Where can I report problems that I have with my contact lenses?

* You can report a serious eye problem associated with your contact lenses with FDA's MedWatch reporting form at: Also, contact your health professional for medical advice.

* You can report problems involving contact lens sales by Web sites by sending e-mail to

* If you do not get the exact lenses that you ordered, you should report the problem directly to the company that supplied them.
COPYRIGHT 2001 U.S. Food & Drug Administration
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Publication:Pamphlet by: Food and Drug Administration
Article Type:Pamphlet
Date:May 1, 2001
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