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What’s the fastest way to get an eye exam?

walk-ins welcome neon sign

Walk-in eye exams are hard to come by, but they do exist. You’re most likely to find walk-ins available at retail chains and big-box vision centers.

But choosing a walk-in exam could potentially come at a cost: long wait times and even a rushed appointment, depending on how busy that location is. Before you head to the store or office, you might want to consider looking for a same-day appointment instead.

How can I find a same-day eye exam?

While some locations do offer walk-in eye exams, the convenience of walking in may not balance out the time you’ll wait to be seen or the potentially rushed exam.

And even for eye doctors who don’t directly offer walk-ins, there’s an alternative that could save you a lot of time in the waiting room and hopefully ensure a more thorough exam: a same-day appointment.

Same-day or next-day eye appointments can often be found locally, even for a routine exam. And checking availability is particularly straightforward with practices that offer online scheduling — you’re a few clicks or taps away from finding the next open time slot.

This is especially true with retail chains and the big-box vision centers attached to supermarkets.

Take the nationwide chain America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, for example. Their online FAQ explains that, while they do allow walk-ins, “it’s always best to schedule an appointment.” Sure enough, a few same-day time slots were available when we checked their online scheduling system.

The same was true for many LensCrafters, Target Optical and Visionworks locations we checked. In the event that no same-day appointments were available, almost all had availability the following day.

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Why do so many optometrists require appointments?

The simple answer? Appointments lead to better time management and patient care.

Without proper appointment scheduling, your optometrist could see days that looked less like a doctor’s office and more like a driver’s license office. This can have a rebound effect on how much time eye doctors feel they can spend with each patient.

Sorting exams into scheduled appointment times allows for an even flow of patients and shorter wait times.

“Optometrists rarely offer walk-in exams unless there is an ocular urgent or emergent situation,” says Mesheca C. Bunyon, president of the Maryland Board of Examiners in Optometry.

“For routine eyeglass and contact lens exams, it is best to have an appointment to allow for the proper amount of time to complete testing and be educated by the doctor.”

Mesheca also notes the possible need for eye dilation, which can require an additional 30- to 45-minute wait while the pupils fully dilate. Without the stability of a scheduled appointment, you could end up waiting much longer.

Stores and offices that do allow walk-in exams can experience wait times well over an hour during busy periods.

When to see an eye doctor ASAP

If you develop pain, significant redness or discomfort, it’s important to be seen as quickly as possible.

Mesheca, who practices optometry in the Washington, D.C., area, says that finding a quick appointment shouldn’t be an issue when symptoms are present. She explains that most optometrists will squeeze people in same-day, because they “realize the importance of getting patients in sooner.”

“The best course of action for a patient who needs an eye exam ASAP is to call the office immediately,” she says

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