Expert answers: Can cheap glasses from the servo damage vision?

Jul 12, 2019
We've all seen the cheap glasses for sale at chemists and service stations and an expert tells Starts at 60 how safe they are for vision. Source: Getty (stock image used)

Whether it’s being put off by the higher price of prescription glasses or needing an affordable or quick fix to make reading in bed of a night a little easier, there’s an array of reasons why people are drawn to cheaper and non-prescription glasses on offer at service stations, chemists and discount stores.

While they look and feel like normal glasses, most people realise that a $5 or $10 pair of glasses probably won’t have the same effect as prescription glasses or be useful in treating serious vision issues, but may not be sure whether these cheap alternatives can cause damage to the eyes.

Speaking to Starts at 60, Specsavers optometrist Karen Walsh explains that while cheaper non-prescription glasses aren’t harmful to the eyes, they may not always be the best option to improve vision.

“They’re not damaging to the eyes in any way and they’re not dangerous,” she says. “Most people will have a slightly different script in both eyes.”

Cheaper glasses generally come with the same lens power for both eyes and while a particular lens may make it easier to read in one eye, it may not be effective for the other, meaning that eye has to work harder.

Cheap glasses won't cause damage to the eyes, but they may not always have the desired results.
Cheap glasses won’t cause damage to the eyes, but they may not always produce the desired result. Source: Getty

“What you’ll find is one is always slightly over-corrected or under-corrected so they’re not accurate to your script,” Walsh explains. “They can lead to you feeling a bit strained when you’re reading.”

Straining of the eyes can result in soreness, blurred vision, headaches and difficulty concentrating but while uncomfortable, it won’t cause lasting damage to vision. Despite these side effects, it doesn’t necessarily mean people need to avoid cheaper glasses completely.

Read more: The unexpected health conditions an eye test can detect

Instead, talk with an optometrist or eye doctor so they can determine if prescription glasses are required or if cheaper glasses are suitable.

“We tell you which power to use so you’re not straining your eyes,” Walsh says. “We do recommend them sometimes as a back-up or to throw around in the workshop or something like that.”

An eye test is recommended to ensure you're wearing glasses that suit your individual needs.
An eye test is recommended to ensure you’re wearing glasses that suit your individual needs. Source: Getty

And just as the internet has made it easier for us to purchase medication and health-related items with the click of a button, glasses are also becoming increasingly available online. Still, this isn’t recommended as there are measurements and considerations an online store can’t offer that an optometrist can in person.

“What we do when we’re ordering glasses for you in store is that we measure where your pupils are in relation to the centre of the glasses,” Walsh says. “We try to make sure the centre of the lens is placed directly in the centre of your pupil so there’s no pull either side of your eyes.”

Purchasing glasses online without the measurements being taken by a professional doesn’t guarantee the centre of the lens will align with the centre of the pupil, which can increase the likelihood of the eyes straining.

Similarly, Optometry Australia recently warned that purchasing contact lenses from online retailers without a prescription from an eye doctor or optometrist could jeopardise vision. Because there’s more involved when it comes to finding the right lenses, optometrists need to consider the size of the eye and the best material to use to reduce the risk of infection, pain and vision loss. Without an expert taking these factors into consideration, people run the risk of vision problems or the lens becoming stuck under the eyelids.

Read more: Aussies putting vision at risk by purchasing contact lenses online

Experts warn against people buying contact lenses online without a prescription.
Experts warn against buying contact lenses online without a prescription. Source: Getty

Talking about glasses and contact lenses is part of a standard eye test – which assesses a person’s vision and checks for more serious health conditions that can be detected through the eyes including diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and arthritis. Those under 65 are eligible for one bulk-billable eye test once every three years, while over-65s are eligible for an annual bulk-billed eye test through Medicare.

“What we generally advise is that everybody should have an eye test every two years,” Walsh says. “Your optometrist will advise the frequency of review for you specifically.”

Do you ever purchase cheap glasses from the chemist or discount stores? When was the last time you saw an optometrist?

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