Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The high street scam preventing us buying online prescription sunglasses in the UK

It's summer time, and the living is easy.  Well, it would be if wasn't so dazzlingly bright every time I go outside!  This year, I've really noticed my prescription sunglasses are just not up to the job out on the kayak in bright weather.  The problem is that I just tried to do it on the cheap and fitted some polarised lenses into an old pair of spectacles.  This is fine for most things, but out on the water, there's a lot of constantly moving, reflected light off the water surface that comes in around the sides of the glasses, dazzling and distracting me from fishing.  It's unfortunately the result of being so close to the water's surface and rather than screwing up my eyes under my hat I need to get something better.
Costa Del Mar Swordfish in Green Mirror 580G for those with very deep pockets.  I can only dream of owning a prescription pair for kayaking... 
So this year the search is on for some new prescription sunglasses that will do the job properly.  Not as easy as you might think, as wrap around frame styles that block side and reflected light are much more difficult to fit with prescription lenses.  There are some manufacturers such as Oakley and Costa Del Mar who target the fishing market specifically and can fit wrap around frames with prescription lenses, but it's not cheap and even so you may be limited by the strength of your prescription.

Oakley Polarized Pit Bull™ Fishing Specific, in Shallow Blue lenses.  Sadly limited to a -4.00 prescription. 
While Oakley and Costa Del Mar probably capture the headlines for most fishermen, there are other options out there if you're prepared to look a little.  After all, the essential feature is polarisation that lets you see past the surface of the water to what's lying underneath, after that there's a lot of debate about which colour tint is best for certain fishing environments.  Everyone seems to claim different wave length filters that let you see different levels of contrast and colour highlights.  Costa Del Mar seem well regarded, and claim to block as much as possible of the yellow wavelength.  Others, such as Oakley, claim that removing blue light in marine environments helps reduce eye strain.  Ideally, we'd have several colours of polarised filters for each type of fishing (river, shallow inshore, deep sea), as well as different levels of tint to cope with different levels of ambient light.   But that's starting to sound like a hassle, and while there are sunglasses out there that let you change lenses, I think the future probably lies in combination lens that incorporate some of those features.

For example, lens manufacturers such as Youngers Optics, who produce the highly rated Drivewear

A lens that is both photochromatic and polarised. But in addition to darkening it actually changes colour tint so that you get the benefits of clearer vision in low light conditions using yellow / green tints, with deeper browns for strong light conditions.

Sounds like polarised perfection for fishing - but how can I get a pair of sunglasses with those lenses, and what frame choices are there?

No chance of my local optician's having them as I live in small provincial town.

So I starting looking online.  It soon became apparent that my prescription was missing something, something that British opticians are keeping back which enables them to make your glasses.

Pupillary distance (PD) is the gap in millimetres between the centres of your pupils, and is essential for making prescription glasses.  In fact, American online opticians won't let you order glasses without it.  But it's missing from British prescriptions.  If you had it you could buy your glasses anywhere.  Unfortunately it appears there are vested interests who would prefer that didn't happen.

I was shocked to discover this.  But you try ringing up your opticians and asking them to give it to you.  My optician is Vision Express, who flatly refused and declared my PD is not part of my prescription.  Even though they admitted that they took my PD to make my glasses, they are not obliged under UK law to include PD as part of my prescription.

My eyes, my PD measurement you would think.  Not according to Vision Express.  Sounds bonkers?  Unfortunately it's a deliberate policy to stop you going online and buying your prescription glasses at half the price from anywhere in the world. 

You can go into your opticians and ask them to measure your PD.  It should literally take a minute and should be free.  But like Vision Express, they can refuse and attempt to fob you off with some nonsense about not wanting to take the responsibility of the measurement in case you try to sue them.  If they are your opticians you can persist and ask for the measurement they used to make your last pair of glasses.  If you're dealing with Vision Express, they will still refuse and tell you to write to head office to force a full disclosure of your clinical records.  Oh dear.  Bad publicity beckons.

It's really quite simple.  The distance between my pupils is fixed.  That distance never changes.  That is the measurement your optician has taken and you would like to have. The distance to centre the lenses in a particular frame to suit your eyes is determined by the person making the glasses once they have the frame you have chosen.   After all, an optician has no idea which frames I will choose.  He can only ask if I use the lenses mostly for long distance, or perhaps occasional near distance work, and can add a correction as required.  The people making up your glasses will take the prescription he gave you and your PD, and adjust it appropriately for the frames you want.  This last part has nothing to do with your optician, which is why glasses are often sent off to specialised optical laboratories to have their lenses fitted, and it's also why we should be able to order this last part of the service online.

There is an online government petition asking the UK government to compel optician's to supply this figure by default on all prescriptions, so that you and I can go and order whatever glasses we want, from whomever we want, using just our prescription.

Please add your signature and hopefully we can get rid of this protectionist annoyance and open up the UK online prescription glasses market for everybody, but especially for those fishermen who want the best prescription sunglasses available!

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