Contact lenses are a convenient and preferred option over specs. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, they provide much better visibility and good natural vision. In addition, they do not alter your physical appearance. However, in the U.S., contact lenses are treated as any other medical item, and require a valid prescription to buy them.
Why You Cannot Buy Contact Lenses Without a Prescription
The 2004 legislation makes it mandatory for all Eye Care Practitioners (ECPs) to prescribe contact lenses. Thus, you cannot buy them legally, unless you produce a valid prescription. Earlier, you had to buy the contacts from the ECP only. However, the new Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act, gives buyers liberty to compare prices and buy them from private vendors. The ECP has to give a copy of the prescription to the patient, even though he may not ask for it. The patient can then get the lenses from the vendor of his/her choice. It has also been made mandatory on part of the seller to sell them only after verifying the prescription. Also, the prescriber has to correct any inaccuracies, while responding to the verification request made by the seller. This also applies for colored contact lenses, if the patient has vision problem.
Why the Need for a Prescription?
As mentioned above, contact lenses are considered as a medical device by the Food and Drug Administration of the U.S., therefore, they need a prescription. They must fit properly. An ill-fitting lens can prove to be harmful for the eyes. Similarly, if the material of the lens does not suit your eyes, you may face problems such as swelling, infection, abrasion, inflammation, etc. Some of these may lead to serious medical implications, which may need an expert's consultation. Often, there is a need of proper guidance on the use of contact lenses, their care, hygiene, etc. This cannot be achieved if the patients buy them from a private seller. As a result, they might wear the lenses in an inappropriate manner or even exchange contact lenses. This is particularly true in case of teenagers, who end up using someone else's contact lenses.
When Does a Prescription Expire?
You can buy lenses only as long as your prescription is well within the expiry limit. Its duration varies and it could be about one year or more. Post expiry, you'll have to undergo an eye exam, which will determine the health of your eyes, and also if you are still fit to wear contact lenses. The ECP will then issue a new prescription to buy new stock of lenses, if required. This is particularly useful for people who wear disposable lenses and have to buy them on a regular basis.
It is hard to buy contact lenses legally without a prescription if you live in the United States. The websites that offer to sell cheap colored contacts without it, may be a hoax. Genuine websites will verify it before shipping your order, while the fake ones might ship you substandard lenses. The best option is to buy them using a prescription, after you get your eyes tested by a professional.