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Guide to Eye Examinations – Who, When, Where and How

Eye Exams Eye examinations should be a regular part of everyone’s preventative health routine. There are many good reasons for having regular check ups and absolutely no reason not to. Eye exams are quick and relatively reasonable in cost and you just can't put a price on good eyesight.

How often?
Eyecare professionals typically recommend an eye exam every two years, though if you have certain eye conditions, you may be asked to come more often. This isn't just to check for vision problems; a thorough eye examination will also detect the early signs of any eye disease, which if left untreated could lead to a permanent loss of sight. The eyes can be indicators of other general health problems as well, such as the onset of diabetes.

Still not convinced? Here are some more reasons to schedule regular eye exams for yourself and your family:

  • Schoolchildren may be performing poorly simply because they cannot see clearly. It is not uncommon for a child to misdiagnosed with a learning disorder when the problem is really poor vision

  • If you already wear eyeglasses or contact lenses, you will likely need your prescription adjusted periodically, as your eyesight can change over time.

  • Even if you've had perfect vision all your life, you'll begin experiencing the onset of presbyopia around the age of 40, as the eye’s lens loses its flexibility, restricting the ability to focus on close objects.

  • Some eye diseases are hereditary, so if your family history includes eye problems, eye exams are definitely even more essential.

If you notice anything different or strange about your eyes or your vision, don't wait until your next regular appointment, see your eyecare professional as soon as possible. You should also familiarize yourself with the symptoms of an eye emergency and know when you should seek immediate medical treatment.

Eye examinations for children
It is estimated that as many as 1 in 10 preschoolers and 1 in 4 school aged children have problems with their eyesight. Early intervention for these problems is critical, as essential eye and brain functions are developed during these years. Babies should get their first eye exam at six months of age. The child's vision should then be checked when they are 3 years old, and again before starting school. Those who are found to have good vision should be reexamined every 2 years, while those who require vision correction should be checked annually.

If any of the following applies to your child, there is an increased risk of vision problems and he or she should be checked annually:

  • Premature birth
  • Slow development
  • Turned or crossed eyes
  • Previous eye injury
  • Other serious illness or disease
  • Family history of eye disease

Eye examinations for adults
Adults who suffer from the following medical conditions should also have annual eye examinations:

Who should perform an eye examination?
Vision screening, including those tests administered in schools and at the DMV, are not a substitute for a complete eye exam from a eye doctor. These tests are generally performed without specialized equipment and are administered by someone with no professional training. As a result, they can only detect a small range of vision problems and cannot detect the early signs of eye disease. To get a complete eye exam, you will need to see an eye care professional. The three main types of professionals are:

  • Ophthalmologists are the highest trained medical doctors and they are qualified to perform eye surgery and treat medical conditions of the eye. They have 12 or more years of training and are the professionals you may be referred to if an eye disease is diagnosed.

  • Optometrists are most commonly the professionals who prescribe glasses and contact lenses. They may treat medical eye conditions with eye drops and medications and can perform minor surgery. They will have 8 or more years of training.

  • Opticians are eyecare professionals who can adjust and repair glasses, advise on contact lens use and if trained can prescribe glasses and fit contact lenses. They may have attended technical school or learnt as an apprentice on the job.

How much will an eye examination cost?
Don't let the perceived cost deter you from having regular eye exams. They're likely more affordable than you think, and special programs are available which may be able to help you pay for eye care, if necessary.

Fees vary widely depending upon where the exam is carried out. Membership warehouses such as Costco and Sams Club, “Big Box” chains like Target and Walmart and specialist optical outlets all have the necessary equipment to do a thorough examination, and the best way to compare prices is to simply call around and ask.

Your eye exam should include:

  • A review of personal and family medical history
  • Evaluation of vision at distance and close up, usually using an eye chart
  • Evaluation of nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia
  • Evaluation of teamwork of the eyes
  • Internal and external eye examination

Some health insurance plans cover part or all of an eye examination, so review your policy before making an appointment and tell the doctor if you have any insurance cover.

What to bring to an eye examination

  • If you have vision insurance, you will need your membership card. It's also a good idea to bring a copy of your plan
  • Your health history and a list of any medications and supplements you're taking, including herbal supplements
  • Any current prescription eyeglasses, reading glasses or contact lenses you may wear, even if you only wear them occasionally
  • A list of questions or concerns that you have so that you don't forget to ask anything
  • A book or something else to pass the time while you wait for the eye drops to take effect
  • Someone to drive you home, if you will be given pupil-dilating eyedrops during the exam. (If you're not sure, call and ask ahead of time so you don't end up stranded.)

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