Americans spend, on average, $275, after insurance, for their eyewear. But unless you have special vision needs, you can spend far less on a good pair of glasses. Here are some features to consider, where to buy your specs, and different ways to save.
What makes a pair of glasses ‘good'?
It's important to understand what different features really do for your vision, and whether they're worth the extra cost.
High-index lenses. Thinner, lighter and more comfortable than regular lenses, they're a great choice for those with strong prescriptions — helping you avoid the “Coke bottle” look.
Polycarbonate lenses. Active types might want to consider polycarbonate lenses, a type of high-index lens. They are ridiculously durable (up to 10 times more impact resistant than average plastic) and scratch resistant, and have built-in UV protection. They also aren't that much more expensive than regular plastic lenses.
Photochromic lenses. These lenses react to ultraviolet (UV) light, staying clear indoors and darkening in sunlight. This is an economical add-on, good for those who don't want to carry around a pair of prescription sunglasses. They also can be a smart choice for older patients, who may be beginning to get cataracts and need to protect their eyes from UV light. A caveat: They won't darken inside cars because windshields filter out the UV rays that trigger the color change, so if you wear glasses while driving, they may not be a good choice. Also, notes Douglas Lazzaro, M.D., an ophthalmologist affiliated with NYU Langone Health, different brands have different levels of darkness and reaction times, so take time to comparison shop.
Progressive lenses. Doing bifocals one better, these lenses offer three prescriptions in one lens — up close and at a distance, with an intermediate distance (say, for computer viewing) in the center — allowing you to see all distances. They gradually change from each prescription, as you move your eyes down and up. This makes them a nice option for those who want only one pair of full-time glasses. They're also attractive, without that line across the lens you'll get with bifocals. A downside: They can be disorienting. “People can have a hard time adapting to them — for example, going up and down stairs can be tricky,” says Danny Tran, an optometrist and instructor at the Ruiz Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Science at McGovern Medical School, University of Texas, who suggests that first-time wearers remove their glasses when navigating precarious surroundings.
High-definition (digital) lenses. These lenses are to your eyes what high-definition (HD) technology is to TV. Based on a digital scan of your eyes, digital lenses can give you even crisper, clearer vision than conventional lenses. Take note: They generally cost up to 25 to 30 percent more than conventional glasses of the same material and design, and may only offer a slightly better view: “If you're happy with your traditional lenses,” says Lazzaro, “you probably don't need them.”