Your vision is important, and that’s why you pay for annual eye exams and prescription corrective lenses to keep your eyesight working at its best. By now you’ve probably got the ritual down pretty well: you go to the optometrist where they run some tests, your prescription is updated and you leave with a shiny new pair of (often very expensive) glasses.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you’ve ever considered shopping around for your frames, you may have wondered how to do it without the blessing of your doctor. Well, the good news is that your prescription information is legally yours. And as much as your optometrist may want you to buy prescription eyeglasses through them, you have the right to buy elsewhere.

How to get an eyeglass prescription from the doctor

It’s as simple as asking for it. Most eye doctors will give you your prescription automatically at the end of your exam, but if your doctor doesn’t, just ask for it. They are required by law to give you the prescription you paid them to determine. This right is covered by a pair of FTC regulations called the Eyeglass Rule and Contact Lens Rule.

Be sure to note that your eye doctor is under no circumstances permitted to charge you extra for access to your prescription, nor may they force you to sign a waiver or form of any kind. However, if you pay for eye exams out of pocket, your doctor may withhold your prescription until you have paid for your eye exam, so long as demanding payment at the time of service is the clinic’s requirement for all patients.

Eyeglasses vs. contact lenses

While both correct vision, your contact lenses and eyeglasses do not share a prescription. There are separate information requirements for each and you will often need two different exams to obtain both of these prescriptions.

The main difference is that a contact lens prescription must take into account the shape of your eyes as well as the material of the lenses themselves. The prescription strength for contacts will also be a little different than that of classic frames.

This is because your glasses sit a few millimeters from your face, which means they need to be a bit stronger than the prescription for your contact lenses, which sit directly on your eye. 

What’s in a prescription?

Your eyeglass prescription is more complicated than your visual acuity measurement (for example, 20/20 vision). Usually, each eye has a different prescription. Your eyeglass prescription will include the following:

  • Your name
  • Your most recent exam date
  • The prescription expiration
  • Your eye doctor’s contact information
  • The prescription strength for each lens, including astigmatism correction

Your prescription may also include your pupillary distance, which is necessary for ordering custom eyeglasses online. As this is not always standard with prescriptions, it is possible for your eye doctor to charge extra for this measurement. The good news is that measuring the distance between your pupils can be done accurately at home. You do not necessarily need your doctor to provide the measurement.

The prescription for your contact lenses will have a few additional pieces of information, including:

  • The material of the lenses
  • The manufacturer of the lenses
  • The base curve
  • The diameter of the lens (if necessary)

For help making sense of the different measurements included on your prescription, check out our prescription info page.

Prescriptions expire

Your eyes will change over your lifetime, as will the prescription for your glasses. Just like how prescriptions for pharmaceutical medicine have a time limit, so too do eyeglass prescriptions expire. Eyeglasses and contact lenses are both medical devices and you are required to have an up-to-date prescription to purchase them.

A prescription for eyeglasses or contacts will be good for at least a year, possibly longer depending on the laws in your state.

Shopping for lenses

Once you have a copy of your prescription, you are free to peruse the market until you find the perfect glasses for you. If you are used to buying the very pricey glasses and contact lenses at your doctor’s office, then cheap prescription glasses may worry you. But this price discrepancy does not necessarily denote a gap in quality.

Your optometrist’s office is likely selling lenses at an incredible markup. Online glasses are made with the same materials and provide the same visionary correction. Shopping at, you’ll have a wider selection at better prices.

39DollarGlasses is run by eye doctors, so you can rest easy knowing you’re getting the same quality lenses you would at your eye clinic. And you can always reach out with any questions about purchasing contacts or eyeglasses, or deciphering your prescription.