Why Do I Need a Prescription for My Contact Lenses?

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You cannot order contact lenses without a prescription, at least in the United States. You will need a contact lens prescription written by a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist to purchase contact lenses.

You cannot order contact lenses with an expired prescription either, as sellers are legally obligated to verify your prescription before processing your order to ensure its validity. This can get in the way of a smooth transaction when purchasing contacts online.

Contact lens wearers may have asked the same question: “Why do I need a prescription for my contacts in the first place?” In this article, we will discuss why you need a prescription for your contact lenses.

Contact lenses are a medical device

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Contact lenses cannot be legally obtained without a prescription because they are classified as medical devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), whether they correct vision or are simply used for cosmetic purposes. As a medical device, contact lenses are under strict regulatory oversight to ensure patient safety.

When writing a prescription, your ECP will include your vision measurements and a specific contact lens brand. The brand is there to ensure that you get a contact lens that uses suitable lens material for your eye health needs. This is a vital part of your prescription, and it is necessary for contact lens retailers to fill your order.

Below is a complete list of the items that your prescription should contain, as defined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the Contact Lens Rule:

  • Patient’s name
  • Examination date
  • Issue date
  • Expiration date
  • Name, address, phone number, and fax number of the prescriber
  • Power of the prescribed contact lenses
  • Material and/or manufacturer of the prescribed contact lens
  • Base curve or appropriate designation of the prescribed contact lens
  • Diameter, when applicable, of the prescribed contact lens

After giving you a copy of your prescription, prescribers who sell contacts or have a direct or indirect financial interest in the sale of contacts are required to ask you to sign a confirmation that you received your prescription. Prescribers must keep the signed proof for at least three years.

Prescriptions expire

Contact lens prescriptions have expiration dates for a good reason: Your eyes can change over time, causing your current prescription to become inaccurate. Without a new prescription and the eye exam that goes along, you may be stuck wearing incorrect contacts that can make your vision worse or cause discomfort.

Even if your prescription stays the same, you should have routine eye exams to identify any complications or sight-threatening eye conditions.

Contact lens prescriptions are typically valid for one year or the minimum required by state law, whichever is greater. In select states, contact lens prescriptions are valid for two years. Those states include Washington, Utah, Minnesota, New Mexico, Mississippi, New Jersey, Maryland, and Florida.

Legitimate sellers only sell to customers with valid prescriptions

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Brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers alike are bound by law to only sell contact lenses to customers with current or updated prescriptions.

According to the Contact Lens Rule, sellers may provide contact lenses only when the customer presents their current or updated prescription in person, by fax, or by email if the prescription has been scanned and attached to the email. The customer can also give the seller permission to verify their prescription by direct communication with the prescriber. Therefore, places that advertise contacts as cosmetics or sell them over-the-counter are breaking federal law and could be selling counterfeit lenses.

Bottom Line

You need a prescription to order contacts because the FDA classifies them as medical devices. Moreover, your prescription needs to be updated to ensure that the contacts prescribed to you still sufficiently meet your eye health needs.

At Lens.com, we take eye health seriously and encourage you to visit your ECP regularly to keep your contact lens prescription updated. That said, we understand that getting an in-office eye exam for prescription renewal may be challenging if you have a busy schedule.

Luckily, you can easily renew your prescription from home with Lens.com’s online vision exam. The exam takes only 10 minutes, after which a board-certified ophthalmologist will review your prescription. Once approved, you’ll get a copy of your renewed prescription.

Already have a valid prescription? Click here to get started on your order.