1. What’s the difference between an optician, a dispensing optician and an optometrist?

An optometrist examines eyes, tests sight and prescribes spectacles or contact lenses for those who need them. They also fit spectacles or contact lenses, give advice on visual problems and detect any ocular disease or abnormality, referring the patient to a medical practitioner if necessary.

A dispensing optician is someone who advises on, fits and supplies the most appropriate spectacles after taking account of each patient’s visual, lifestyle and vocational needs. They are also able to fit and provide aftercare for contact lenses after undergoing further specialist training.

For simplicity and in recognition of the mainstream use of the word ‘optician’ to cover both professions, this website defaults to the term ‘optician’ to cover both dispensing opticians and optometrists.

2. How should I go about buying contact lenses?

By law, contact lenses (including ‘cosmetic’, ‘fashion’ or ‘non-prescription’ lenses) should only be sold if a registered optometrist, dispensing optician or doctor is supervising the sale or involved with the process.

Prescription lenses can be sold only after a registered optometrist, dispensing optician or doctor has fitted the lenses, explained how to wear and care for them and issued a contact lens specification. The lenses can be bought from the practitioner who carried out the fitting or from another supplier, provided that the other supplier has the original specification or checks the specification with the person who issued it.

Prescription contact lenses can be bought online or instore, and you will need a valid in-date contact lens specification and regular contact lens check-ups however you choose to buy your lenses.  

Cosmetic, fashion or non-prescription contact lenses can be sold only by or under the supervision of a registered optometrist, dispensing optician or doctor.  Supervision requires the registered person to be present on the premises, aware of the procedure and in a position to intervene if necessary.  This means that non-prescription contact lenses should not be sold online.

Further information regarding how to go about buying contact lenses can be found on the GOC website in the patient leaflet: Buying Contact Lenses.

3. How frequently do I need to have an eye examination?

An eye examination checks the general health of the eye as well as just checking whether you need glasses or contact lenses. It should be part of your normal health routine, regardless of whether you think you need glasses to read, drive or watch TV.

Most people should have their eyes examined every two years but you may need to have examinations more often depending on your age and medical history. Further information is available from http://lookafteryoureyes.org/seeing-clearly/the-eye-examination/

4. How frequently do I need to have a contact lens check?

Your contact lens practitioner will advise you when you need to return for a check-up, based on your individual needs. It is in your best interest for check-ups to be at least every 12 months or more often if necessary. You can find more detail in the General Optical Council’s Buying Contact Lenses leaflet.


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