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Be sure to ask what tests are included when you obtain information about eye exam costs. Some locations will advertise a low exam fee, but upon arrival you may be informed you must pay extra if you want certain procedures — such as pupil dilation, retinal photos, etc. — that may be included in a higher exam fee quoted elsewhere.

Certain "intangibles" should be considered when you compare eye exam costs, such as the professionalism and friendliness of the doctor and his or her staff, the level of training of the doctor's assistants, how long you must wait to be seen, the cleanliness of the office, advanced (vs. outdated) exam equipment used and the convenience of the office location and hours of operation.

It's also a good idea when choosing an eye doctor to ask friends for referrals and to "shop around" first via a personal visit to the office before scheduling an exam.

Many vision insurance plans, including Medicare, cover at least a portion of eye exam services. Check to see what your benefits are and what doctors participate in your plan before you make an appointment. Then be sure to give the doctor's office your insurance information when scheduling your exam to avoid any misunderstandings about your coverage.

When To Have Your Eyes Examined

Most eye care experts recommend that you have a complete eye exam every one to three years, depending on your age, risk factors and whether you currently wear corrective lenses.

Children with eye problems may do worse in school.
Children need regular eye exams to detect vision problems that may interfere with learning.
Results From Our Eye Exam Poll

Graph of responses to our eye exam frequency poll.

Contact lens exams typically include additional tests and procedures to those noted above.

Children. Routine eye exams are essential for children to be ready to learn in school, and experts say more than 80 percent of information children receive in classrooms is presented visually.

According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), children generally should have their first eye exam at six months of age, another exam at age three and again at the start of school. Risk-free children should then continue to have their eyes examined every two years until age 18.

Children with risk factors for vision problems may need their first eye exam earlier than six months of age and may need more frequent eye exams throughout childhood. Examples of risk factors include:

  • History of premature birth or low birth weight
  • Infection of mother during pregnancy (examples: rubella, venereal disease, herpes, AIDS)
  • Developmental delays
  • Turned or crossed eyes (strabismus)
  • Family history of eye disease
  • High refractive error or anisometropia
  • Other physical illness or disease

Also, children who currently wear eyeglasses or contact lenses should have annual eye exams, according to the AOA.

Unfortunately, many American children don't receive the eye care they need, and children in poor families are at the greatest risk of undetected vision problems. According to the National Commission on Vision and Health (NCVH), 83 percent of families earning less than twice the federal poverty level include children who have not had an eye exam in the last year.

Currently, 15 states do not require any form of vision screenings or exams for children prior to them beginning school, resulting in "a public health emergency for millions of children," according to NCVH. Even in states that have requirements for vision screenings for schoolchildren, researchers found that screenings failed to detect vision problems in one-third of children who had them, and most of the children who fail vision screenings don't receive the follow-up vision care they need, NCVH says.*

Seniors who don't have eye exams risk sight loss from undetected disease.
Seniors need regular eye exams to avoid sight-threatening diseases.

Adults. To maintain a lifetime of healthy vision, the AOA recommends a comprehensive eye exam every two years for adults ages 18 to 60, and annual exams for seniors age 61 and older.

"At risk" adults should have more frequent exams. Risk factors for adults include:

  • A family history of eye disease (glaucoma, macular degeneration, etc.)
  • Diabetes or high blood pressure
  • A visually demanding occupation or one that may pose hazards to the eyes
  • Taking prescription or non-prescription drugs that may have visual or eye-related side effects
  • Previous eye injuries or eye surgery

Also, adults who wear contact lenses should have annual eye exams, according to the AOA.

If you have any doubt how often you (or your children or parents) should have your eyes examined, ask your eye care professional for guidance.

Recommended Eye Exam Frequency for Children
Patient Age or Situation Examination Interval if Asymptomatic or Risk-Free Examination Interval if at Risk
Birth to 24 months At 6 months of age By 6 months of age or as recommended
2 to 5 years At 3 years of age At 3 years of age or as recommended
6 to 18 years Before first grade and every two years thereafter Annually or as recommended
Children who wear eyeglasses or contact lenses Annually or as recommended Annually or as recommended
Reprinted with permission from the American Optometric Association
Recommended Eye Examination Frequency for Adults
Patient Age or Situation Examination Interval if Asymptomatic or Risk-Free Examination Interval if at Risk
18 to 60 years Every two years Every one to two years or as recommended
61 and older Annually Annually or as recommended
Adults who wear eyeglasses or contact lenses Annually or as recommended Annually or as recommended
Reprinted with permission from the American Optometric Association

Who Should I See for My Eye Exam?

There are three different kinds of eye care professionals: ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians. Who you should see depends on your needs.

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MDs or DOs) who specialize in eye care. Not only do they prescribe eyeglasses and contacts, but they also perform eye surgery and treat medical conditions of the eye. Ophthalmologists are eye doctors who have completed medical school and have undergone additional post-graduate training in medical and surgical eye care.

Optometrists also are eye doctors who diagnose vision problems and treat medical conditions of the eye with eye drops and other medicines. Optometrists generally attend four years of optometry school after college to attain their Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. They prescribe glasses, contacts, low vision aids, vision therapy and medication to treat eye diseases; but, with a few exceptions, optometrists typically are not trained or licensed to perform eye surgery.

Opticians are not eye doctors. They are eye care professionals who fit, adjust and repair glasses and teach patients how to apply, remove and care for contact lenses. In some cases, specially trained opticians fit contact lenses. Opticians generally receive their training either "on the job" by apprenticeship or from technical schools.

What Should I Bring With Me to My Eye Exam?

It is important to bring information to your eye exam that will alert your eye doctor to risks you may have for eye or vision problems.

Annual Eye Exams: Here's Why

You may be surprised to learn that no universal standard exists for the frequency of eye exams. Recommendations differ among individual eye doctors, as well as among the various professional associations (American Optometric Association, American Academy of Ophthalmology, etc.).

Those who advise annual exams instead of less frequent ones do so because eyes can change very quickly, in ways that only an eye doctor may detect. And the earlier an eye condition is caught, the earlier treatment can begin.

All of these groups agree on this: everyone needs regular, comprehensive eye exams. Don't rely on vision screenings, because they are not complete. (Read about other problems with vision screenings.)

And don't let monetary considerations keep you from getting an eye exam. Programs are available to help pay for eye care. — L.S.


In particular, bring a list of any prescription or non-prescription medications you are currently taking or that you took on a regular basis in the past. Include vitamins, herbs and other non-traditional remedies you may use. Include the dosages you take for each medicine or other substance, and how long you have been taking them.

If you currently wear corrective lenses, bring all pairs of eyeglasses you wear routinely. If you wear contacts that were prescribed elsewhere, bring a copy of your most recent contact lens prescription.

Also, be sure to bring a copy of your vision insurance card and any other medical insurance cards you have if you are seeking insurance coverage for a portion of your fees.

Finally, prepare and bring a list of questions or concerns that you would like to discuss with the doctor. And if you are interested in specialty services such as contact lens fitting or laser surgery evaluation, be sure to mention this — both when you schedule your exam and when you check in on exam day.


Dr. Gary HeitingAbout the Author: Gary Heiting, OD, is senior editor of AllAboutVision.com. Dr. Heiting has more than 25 years of experience as an eye care provider, health educator and consultant to the eyewear industry. His special interests include contact lenses, nutrition and preventive vision care. Connect with Dr. Heiting via Google+.


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*New evidence-based research shows that universal comprehensive eye exams would help more children succeed in school. National Commission on Vision & Health. August 2009.

[Page updated May 2013]



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