Vision Intervention Part 3: In Which I Learn an Important Lesson About Buying Kids’ Glasses

by Andrea on August 8, 2012

After checking out the details of our vision care benefits and insurance, I called around to some different eyewear stores and asked about children’s glasses. The I did some google searches to gather information on buying children’s glasses. I’d never had to buy glasses before, not for myself and not for any of our first 4 kids. It had taken a long time for us to discover Anabel had a vision problem to begin with (you can read about that in Part 1 here). But we did eventually get her in to a pediatric ophthalmologist for a thorough eye exam (you can read about that and her diagnosis in Part 2 here). Now with prescription in hand, I headed out with Anabel to a popular eyewear store to let her pick out her very first pair of glasses. Unfortunately, I was making a big mistake. I just didn’t know it at the time.

I thought I was prepared. I knew I needed polycarbonate lenses for durability, and to make sure the glasses had spring hinges. I knew to get a warranty and silicone nose pads if the glasses had nose pads. I had also learned there were cable temples (little rubber pieces that hook around the ear to keep glasses on ) for toddlers and babies. Although there is a store in our city that caters only to children’s eyewear, they don’t take insurance. On a tight budget, the idea of paying for everything out of pocket was daunting so I went to a popular eyewear chain store that took our insurance instead.

When I called I was assured they had a very big selection of kids’ glasses. I wouldn’t call the selection “very big” but it seemed ample. Right away Anabel picked out a pair of purple, wire framed glasses with colorful rubber-coated temples. I had her try on many others but ultimately she had her heart set on the purple ones. The girl helping us was young but seemed¬†to know what she was doing. She made it clear that because the strength of the lens was stronger on the left, and because Anabel had chosen small wire frames, it would be obvious that one lens was thicker than the other. I shrugged. I didn’t think anything could be done about that. She also convinced me to get an anti-glare coating on the lenses. It would cost extra but I bought it. I wanted Anabel to have the best we could give her. The total bill was over $300. We ended up paying $217 out of pocket. A week later the glasses were ready and we went to pick them up. They ended up a blessing and a curse.

flowers on the blue dishThe blessing was that Anabel could see so sharply and clearly! The world opened up to her that first day she put on her new glasses. When we arrived home, one of the first things she spotted was a little china sugar bowl I keep on the counter. “Mom! I didn’t know there were little blue flowers on this!” My heart fairly burst I was so happy for her. It was a moment I’ll never forget. She saw new detail on her toys, in the fabric prints on her clothes, everywhere! She was so excited! Her siblings raced to greet her, hugging her, exclaiming how great she looked and voicing unanimous approval of her choice of frames.

Tiny's new glassesThe curse turned out to be the quality of the glasses. The employee of the store hadn’t fitted them properly. Unbeknownst to me, they were too big for her to begin with and were really meant for bigger kids. The temples were straight. The people at the store had never mentioned cable temples for her so I figured they were only for very small toddlers.

Anabel constantly complained the nose pieces were bothering her and the glasses were forever sliding down her nose. She spent half of her time looking over the top of the lenses instead of through them. After a few weeks one of the nose pads fell off and I had to go back to the store and have new ones put on. Since they didn’t have any small nose pads, the man attending to her glasses glued on nose pads meant for adult glasses. Despite having them fitted again, by the time we got home Anabel was complaining they hurt. I was forever readjusting them myself. Try as I might, they either continued to slide down her nose or left welts. Almost worse was the fact that the anti-glare coating made cleaning the glasses a pain. They never seemed to stay clean and were constantly smeared. This only made her prefer to look over them to avoid all the smudging interfering with her vision. Twice within the first 3 months she had managed to bend one of the temples away from the frame. I fixed it with pliers both times.

Anabel’s follow-up didn’t reveal much improvement in her eyesight. The doctor said we would need to start patching 3 hours a day. Once home, Jorge was adamant we get her new glasses. This time we would go to the store specializing in children’s glasses. Anabel’s vision was more important than trying to save money on a pair of glasses that weren’t doing her much good. And that’s precisely what we did.¬†The woman there was so knowledgeable (if you live in Chicago, we went to Aardvark Eyewear). She took one look at Anabel’s glasses and said she could refit them so we’d have a good backup pair while we waited for the new glasses to come in. She re-adjusted the nose pads, and retrofitted the temples with cables to fit around her ears. She also told us not to waste our money on the anti-glare for children’s glasses. Her expertise was obvious. After hearing what we wanted in style and durability, she showed us only those frames which fit our needs and were correctly sized for her face. And she knew how to order the lenses in such a way that the difference in lens strength wasn’t so obvious. In the end, we spent far less out of pocket at this specialty store than we had at the large chain store, including the cost of retrofitting her first pair of glasses!

new miraflex glassesSo what’s the take away for you? Don’t go to a store that happens to sell children’s glasses alongside their adult lines. Call around. Talk to other parents of kids who wear glasses. Find a store that either specializes in children’s eyewear, or at least one that has an employee familiar with highly experienced in fitting young children, babies, and toddlers for glasses. Don’t rely on your insurance alone. We spent less money at the store that didn’t take our insurance than the one that did. Correcting your child’s vision requires getting the right glasses and it’s worth the effort to find the right person for the job.

In the end, Anabel ended up with the glasses she ought to have started out with. She was much happier and comfortable. But now a new challenge arose. Patching. Patching 3. long. hours. per. day. During those 3 hours Anabel went from happiness to misery. And we faced a new learning curve.

To be continued in Part 4: In Which Patching Begins…

P.S. Do you have tips on buying children’s glasses? Please share! :-)


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