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Understanding Your Prescription Rights for Glasses and Contact Lenses

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Changes to the Rule go into effect October 16, 2020.

The Eyeglass Rule and Contact Lens Rule, both enforced by the FTC, give you the right to get a copy of your prescription from your eye care prescriber — whether you ask for it or not — at no extra charge. That lets you shop around for the best deal.

Your Rights and Your Prescription

What are my rights under the FTC’s Eyeglass and Contact Lens Rules?

After you get an eye exam for glasses or a fitting for contact lenses, your eye care prescriber has to give you a copy of your prescription — whether you ask for it or not. It’s the law. To get it, the prescriber can’t make you:

  • request it
  • pay an extra fee
  • buy eyeglasses or contact lenses, or
  • sign a waiver or release

For contact lens prescriptions, your prescriber should ask you to sign a confirmation that she gave you a copy of the prescription. 

Why would I want my prescription?

You have a choice about where to buy your glasses or contacts. You don’t have to buy them from your prescriber. You might find a better deal, a better supply, or simply more convenience, at another prescriber’s office, a retail or warehouse store, or online. Having a copy of your prescription means it should be easy to shop where and how you want to shop.

When and how should I get my prescription?

The prescriber has to give you your prescription for glasses at the end of your eye exam without you even asking.

The prescriber has to give you your contact lens prescription after your fitting. A fitting may require more than one appointment and may involve you trying lenses out for a few days before the fitting is finalized. The prescriber can give you your contact lens prescription electronically instead of a paper copy, but only if you agree, in writing or electronically, to get it that way, and agree to the specific method of delivery (e.g., email, portal, or text). If you get your prescription electronically, it must be accessible, downloadable, and printable.

You might ask for an additional copy of your prescription, or give a seller — the place where you’re buying your glasses or lenses — permission to get a physical copy from your prescriber. If you do, your prescriber has 40 business hours to respond and provide it.

What has to be in my prescription?

State law determines what information is needed in a prescription for glasses

Your eye doctor may include the distance between your pupils (called pupillary distance) in your prescription. To buy glasses online, you will need that measurement. Many states do not require that pupillary distance information be included in a prescription, but many doctors do not charge for the pupillary distance measurement. If your doctor does charge to provide this information, some online sellers will refund you that cost.

The Contact Lens Rule says your contact lens prescription must include:

  • your name
  • the date of your exam
  • when your prescription was issued, and when it expires
  • the name, mailing address, phone number, and fax number of the doctor
  • the power, material, and/or manufacturer of the prescribed lens
  • the base curve or appropriate designation of the lens
  • the diameter of the lens, when appropriate

If your doctor prescribes private label contact lenses, the prescription should include the name of the manufacturer, the brand name, and the name of any identical lens from the same manufacturer, if that applies.

My prescriber’s office says they can’t release my prescription because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). Is that right?

No. HIPAA doesn’t stop an eye care prescriber from giving a glasses or contact lens prescription to a patient, nor to a seller who has been instructed by a patient to act as their authorized agent.

Can my prescriber make me pay for the exam or fitting before giving me my prescription?

Your prescriber can, and probably will, charge you for the eye exam or contact lens fitting. But the only way the prescriber’s office can require you to pay for the eye exam, contact lens fitting, or evaluation before giving you a copy of your prescription is if they require immediate payment from all eye exam patients.

Cosmetic Contact Lenses

All contact lenses — even cosmetic ones that only change your appearance — require a prescription. Businesses that sell cosmetic lenses without getting a copy of your prescription, or verifying your prescription information with your eye care prescriber, are selling them illegally. 

I’m only changing the way my eyes look, not correcting my vision. Why do I need a prescription?

Contact lenses, including cat eyes or lenses that change your eye color, can harm your eyes unless they’re properly fitted. An eye care prescriber needs to examine your overall eye health and give you a proper contact lens fitting before you wear lenses. Otherwise, you might face serious injuries or complications like:

  • eye pain or discomfort
  • red or swollen eyes
  • blurred or decreased vision
  • corneal abrasion (cut or scratch on top layer of eye)
  • allergic reactions (itchy, watery, red eyes)
  • infection
  • blindness

If you’re in the market for cosmetic contacts, see an eye care prescriber for an eye exam and prescription. Only buy contacts from sellers who require your prescription — or will leave a verification request with your prescriber. Your sight may depend on it.

Using Your Prescription

What should I do with my prescription once I have it?

If you want to buy glasses or contacts from someone other than your prescriber, the easiest and most accurate method will be to provide a copy of the prescription to the seller to fill your order. Online sellers should tell you how to send or upload a copy of your prescription. 

If you don’t give the seller your actual prescription, you’ll need to give them information about it — for example, the brand or manufacturer of the recommended contacts, power, base curve, or diameter. You’ll also need to tell the seller how to get in touch with your prescriber to send a request to verify the information. It’s important to give the seller the correct information. If you don’t, and your prescriber doesn’t respond to the seller’s request within eight business hours, the seller can sell you those lenses, but you may wind up with lenses that aren’t your prescription. 

If you’re not buying glasses or contacts anytime soon, keep a copy of your prescription in a safe place. Or take a picture of it and save it on your phone or computer. You want to be able to find it if you need to order glasses or contacts quickly. 

Can I order a different brand of contact lenses than the one written on my prescription?

Not without your prescriber’s approval. Talk to your prescriber if you want to change things like your contact lens brand, or how often you change them (for example, moving from bi-weekly to daily contacts). There’s one exception, though: if the brand you wear is the exact same contact lens as the one written on your prescription, just manufactured under a different name (for example, private label — sometimes referred to as “store brand” — lenses).

How long is my prescription good?

State law determines when your prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses will expire. Eyeglass prescriptions usually are good for a year or two, but state laws vary. The Contact Lens Rule says that prescriptions must be good for at least a year, unless your prescriber has a medical reason for making it shorter. Don’t try to buy glasses or contact lenses with an expired prescription. Your eye health changes over time, so it’s important to have regular comprehensive eye health exams.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has good advice about healthy contact lens wear.

Report Rule Violations

What should I do if my eye care prescriber won’t give me a prescription, makes me ask for it, charges me for it, or won’t give it to me unless I sign a waiver or release?

If you think an eye care prescriber is violating the Eyeglass Rule or the Contact Lens Rule, report it to the FTC at FTC attorneys and investigators — and hundreds of other law enforcement agencies — use these reports to bring cases against companies and people who don’t follow the law.