Before your eye examination

Preparing for your eye examination 

What to take with you:

  • notes on any questions you might have in advance of the appointment
  • a list of your medications, tablets and treatments that you may be having for your general health (even if they may not seem relevant)
  • any spectacles you are currently using
  • details of the distance between your eyes and an object for carrying out a specific task, such as a computer or sewing machine
  • any medical letters about your eyes from any treatment you've previously had.

Things to tell your optometrist in advance:

  • If you're diabetic.
  • If you or the person you have booked the appointment for have any special needs including learning disabilities, autism or physical disabilities. 

Regular eye examinations

Everyone should have their eyes tested at least once every two years even if they don't need glasses. 

Having an eye examination is an important health check for your eyes. Some people should have their eyes tested more frequently, for example, if you have a family history of eye disease.

Optometrists are trained to examine your eyes for spectacles and contact lenses but most importantly to detect signs of eye disease. Early detection of disease increases your chance of successful treatment. 

Concerns about your vision

If you have any worries about your vision, then an eye examination with an optometrist is usually the best place to start. If they find any signs of an eye condition, they'll refer you to the right person at the hospital or ask your GP to do this. If you have a sudden change in your vision you should speak to an eye care or medical professional immediately to get advice. Usually, this will mean going to Accident and Emergency, but some sudden changes can be investigated by your local optometrist.

Most high streets have an optometrist practice where you can make an appointment for an eye examination. You can normally call or just walk in for an appointment - you don't need a letter or referral from your doctor. If you're housebound you're entitled to a home visit from an optometrist. You can also find the names and addresses of your local optometrists and the details of who provides home visits in your area through the NHS Choices website.

If you're entitled to an NHS eye test you'll be set a recall date for your next eye examination. If you choose to have a test before this date, you may be charged a private fee. This is because optometrists are only permitted to test your eyes at the recommended standard eye test intervals. However it's important to know that if you or your doctor are concerned about a change in your vision, the optometrist can see you on the NHS. You must tell them when booking the appointment of the reason for your visit and then you can check whether to expect a fee. Don't put off an eye examination because you're not due yet, it's important to discuss any concerns with the optometrist so that you get the care you need. 

Changes in your vision

It is important to go for an eye examination with an optometrist if:

  • you can't see as clearly as you used to
  • you have difficulty seeing distant objects
  • you have difficulty reading.

If you notice a gradual change like this you should have an eye test, even if you aren't due to have one.

You should go to a hospital Accident and Emergency department as soon as possible if you:

  • have a sudden change in vision
  • lose all or part of your vision in one eye or both eyes
  • have an accident involving your eyes
  • suddenly start seeing flashing lights or floaters in your vision.

Some areas provide emergency cover from a local optometrist, if so, you could call your optometrist for advice as to where to get help. 

Concerns about having an eye test

If you are worried about having an eye examination, it's important to know that most people don't have an eye condition. Your sight changes naturally as you age and for many people glasses are all that is needed to see clearly. Most people will require reading and distance spectacles as they get older, it's important to remember that this isn't a sign that your eyes are unhealthy. Wearing spectacles won't make your sight worse. 

If you've developed an eye condition, detecting it early can make a difference to treatments and how your sight may be affected in the future. 

Eye examinations are quick and painless, and for some people they're free. 

You don't have to buy spectacles every time you have an eye examination. Don't let the cost of glasses put you off having your routine eye test. The College of Optometrists recommends that if you need glasses, to buy them from the optometrist who tested your eyes. It's important you choose an optometrist where you intend to buy your spectacles. However, you're entitled to take a copy of your prescription to buy glasses somewhere else. 

Any changes you notice in your vision should be checked by your optometrist. Many eye conditions can be treated, and the earlier the treatment starts the better. Even if you do develop an eye condition, this doesn't mean that you'll lose your sight.

Eye examination costs

If you do have to pay, eye test charges vary depending on the optometrist you choose and whether they offer any additional tests. Ask your local optometrists what they charge and what's included in the fee. 

Free and reduced charges for eye tests

If you answer "yes" to any of these questions you are entitled to NHS free eye tests.

  • Are you aged 60 or over?
  • Are you under 16, or under 19 and in full time education?
  • Do you live in Scotland?
  • Do you or your partner receive income support, family credit, income based job seekers allowance, pension credit guarantee, and are entitled to or named on a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate, or are named on valid HC2 certificate?
  • Do you have diabetes or glaucoma?
  • Are you age 40 or over and have a close relative with glaucoma?
  • Does a hospital ophthalmologist say you are at risk of glaucoma?
  • Are you registered blind or partially sighted?
  • Are you entitled to vouchers for complex lenses?

NHS rules may change from time to time. If you think you qualify for free eye tests, speak to your optometrist before you have your eyes tested and they'll ask you to sign a NHS Sight Test Form.

Disclaimer: This information aims to help you get the eye test that is right for you. However, RNIB can't recommend or endorse any individual optometrist or give any assurance in relation to any particular eye test. If you're unhappy with the service you receive and can't resolve it with your optometrist, you can contact the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS).