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Preparing for an eye exam: What to expect

Woman having a glaucoma test 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?

These guidelines can help you prepare for an eye exam. The first step is finding an eye doctor near you.

Eye exam cost

Eye exams are available at most opticians' practices, whether they be an independent or multiple (part of a national chain) and will be carried out 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 or an ophthalmologist

  • 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 the NHS.

Eye exams for contact lenses can cost more than routine exams to check your general eye health and update your eyeglasses prescription.

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 for being short sighted, long sighted or the presence of astigmatism

  • Near vision testing to determine if you have presbyopia and need progressive lenses

  • Evaluation of your eyes' ability to work together as a team

  • If you are over 40 or have a family history of glaucoma; an eye pressure test and examination of the optic nerve to rule out glaucoma

  • Examination of the interior of your eyes to rule out other eye problems, such as cataracts and macular degeneration

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 optician and staff; the level of training of the dispensing opticians or optical advisors; how long you must wait to be seen; how advanced (or outdated) the exam equipment is; the convenience of the practice; and hours of operation.

It's also a good idea when choosing an optician to ask friends for referrals and to "shop around" first via a personal visit to the practice 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 spectacles 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 between 2 and 2 and a half, and again just before starting 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)

  • Developmental delays

  • 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) may need them at shorter intervals.

"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 (including cataract surgery)

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 medically trained doctors who specialise 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 have undergone additional post-graduate training in medical and surgical eye care.

Optometrists (OO) (previously known as ophthalmic opticians) are primary health care specialists trained to examine the eyes to detect defects in vision, signs of injury, ocular diseases or abnormality and problems with general health.

Optometrists study at university for at least three years and must participate in a "pre-registration" year of assessed clinical training in practice, before being deemed to have the knowledge and skills needed to be registered. Once registered, they have the opportunity to develop their interests in specialist areas of practice and undergo further training.

Optometrists perform eye exams and prescribe glasses, contacts, low vision aids, 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.

Dispensing Opticians (DO) are qualified eye care professionals who fit, adjust and repair glasses and teach patients how to apply, remove and care for contact lenses. Some dispensing opticians undergo further training in contact lenses to become Contact Lens Opticians (CLO) to be able to fit and examine contact lens patients.

What should I bring with me to my eye exam?

It is important to bring information to your eye exam that will alert your optician 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 spectacles you wear routinely. If you wear contacts that were prescribed elsewhere, bring a copy of your most recent contact lens prescription.

Finally, prepare and bring a list of questions or concerns that you would like to discuss with the optician.

If you are interested in speciality 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.

FIND AN OPTICIAN: The first step in preparing for an eye exam is to find an eye doctor near you.

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