Eye exam cost and when to have an eye exam
Common questions about eye exams include:
How much does an eye exam cost?
How frequently should I have my eyes examined?
What should I bring with me to my exam?
Eye exam cost
Eye exams are available through several different venues, including an independent eye doctor's office, the eye department of a multidisciplinary medical clinic, a group eye care practice (optometrists, ophthalmologists or both), and at an optical retailer or optical shop that also offers eye exams by an affiliated optometrist.
The cost of an eye exam can vary significantly, based on where you live and other factors, including:
Whether the exam is performed by an optometrist (OD) or an ophthalmologist (MD)
The tests that are included in the exam
Whether the exam includes a contact lens fitting or other contact lens-related services
The cost of an eye exam can range widely depending on these factors, and whether some or all of the exam is covered by your medical or vision insurance.
When comparing how much an eye exam costs, be sure you are comparing "apples to apples." A comprehensive eye exam should include at least the following:
A review of your personal and family health history and any history of eye problems.
Evaluation of your distance and near vision with an eye chart
Evaluation of your eyes' ability to work together as a team
An eye pressure test and examination of the optic nerve to rule out glaucoma
Contact lens exams typically include additional tests and procedures beyond those noted above.
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" also should be considered when you compare eye exam costs. These might include: the professionalism and friendliness of the doctor and staff; the level of training of the doctor's assistants; how long you must wait to be seen; how advanced (or outdated) the exam equipment is; the convenience of the office location; and hours of operation.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.
When to have your eyes examined
Most eye care professionals recommend that you have a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years, depending on your age, risk factors and whether you currently wear eyeglasses or contact lenses.
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.
Children generally should have their first eye exam at 6 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 6 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)
Turned or crossed eyes (strabismus)
Family history of eye disease
High refractive errors
Physical illness or diseases
Also, children who currently wear eyeglasses or contact lenses should have annual eye exams.
To maintain a lifetime of healthy vision, adults ages 18 to 60 should have a comprehensive eye exam at least every two years. Older adults (age 61 and older) should have annual exams.
"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
If you have any doubts about how often you (or your children or parents) should have your eyes examined, ask your eye doctor.
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. In addition to performing eye exams and prescribing eyeglasses and contacts, most ophthalmologists 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 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.
Optometrists perform eye exams and prescribe glasses, contacts, low vision aids, vision therapy to correct vision problems. They also can treat most eye diseases with medications. 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. Some opticians also fit contact lenses under the direction of an eye doctor.
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.
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. Also note 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.
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.
Page published in January 2020
Page updated in April 2020