This page is meant to tell you what you need to know to get professional eyecare. It explains when and how often to see your eye doctor, defines the different kinds of eye doctors, informs you about what to expect at an eye doctor appointment, and offers ways to make the most of your eye doctor appointment.
What is an eye exam?
At a complete eye exam, called a dilated eye exam, the eye doctor widens the pupil of the eye with eye drops to allow a closer look at the inside of the eye. This exam may not be part of an eye exam for a new pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses. Be sure to ask your eye doctor for a dilated eye exam.
How Often Should I Have an Eye Exam?
Prevent Blindness recommends that everyone receive a comprehensive eye exam through dilated pupils regularly as recommended by your eye doctor.
If you are having trouble seeing clearly or have noticed a change in your vision, call your eye doctor to schedule an appointment. If you have a large sudden change in vision, sudden pain, or injured your eye(s), seek immediate emergency medical attention.
- Over 65 years old: If you are over 65 years old, you should get a complete eye exam every 2 years or as recommended by your eye doctor to take care of your eye health.
- Over 40 years old and black, Hispanic, Latinx: If you Are you black, Hispanic or Latinx, and over age 40, you are more susceptible to glaucoma at an earlier age. Get a dilated eye exam every 2 years or as recommended by your eye doctor to ensure good eye health.
- Diabetes: People living with diabetes are at risk for diabetic retinopathy (an eye disease that harms blood vessels in the eye). If you have diabetes, you should have a dilated eye exam once a year or as often as your eye doctor advises.
- Family history of glaucoma: If you have a grandparent, parent, sibling or child with glaucoma, you are at risk for glaucoma. Get a dilated eye exam every 2 years or as recommended by your eye doctor to ensure good eye health.
- Previous eye injury and eye surgery: Previous eye injuries and surgeries can increase your risk for eye disease. Inform your eye doctor about your eye health history and see your eye doctor as often as recommended.
For information about taking your child to the eye doctor, visit Your Child’s Sight: Taking Your Child to the Eye Doctor.
Who are eye doctors?
Ophthalmologists and optometrists are eye doctors that can provide complete eye exams.
Ophthalmologists: Ophthalmologists are eye physicians with advanced medical and surgical training.
- An ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats all eye diseases, performs eye surgery and prescribes and fits eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems.
- Many ophthalmologists are also involved in scientific research on the causes and cures for eye diseases and vision disorders.
- Ophthalmologists can sometimes recognize other health problems that aren’t directly related to the eye, and refer those patients to the right medical doctors for treatment.
- Ophthalmologists complete 12 to 13 years of training and education, and are licensed to practice medicine and surgery. Typical training includes a four-year college degree followed by at least eight years of additional medical training.
- Some ophthalmologists specialize further in a specific area of medical or surgical eye care. This person is called a subspecialist. The subspecialist usually completes one or two years of additional, more in-depth training (called a Fellowship) in one of the main subspecialty areas such as Glaucoma, Retina, Cornea, Pediatrics, Neurology, Oculo-Plastic Surgery or others. This added training and knowledge prepares an ophthalmologist to take care of more complex or specific conditions in certain areas of the eye or in certain groups of patients.
Optometrists: Doctors of optometry are primary eye health care providers who examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the eye, and also play a major role in maintaining the overall health and well-being of their patients.
- Prescribe medications, low vision rehabilitation, vision therapy, spectacle lenses, contact lenses and perform certain surgical procedures.
- Counsel patients regarding surgical and non-surgical options that meet their visual needs related to their occupations, avocations and lifestyle.
- Complete pre-professional undergraduate education in a college or university and four years of professional education at a college of optometry, leading to the doctor of optometry (O.D.) degree. Many doctors of optometry complete an additional residency in a specific area of practice.
Getting Ready for My Eye Doctor Appointment
Have you ever left the doctor’s office and thought of a dozen questions you meant to ask? We all do that! This checklist of questions can help you make the most of your next visit to the eye doctor.
Call your insurance company and ask if your insurance plan will cover the eye examination and the doctor you want to see.
- Routine eye exams and glasses are often covered by vision insurance.
- Medical concerns about your eyes are often covered by health insurance.
When you call to make an appointment:
- Be prepared to describe any eye or vision problems you are having.
- Ask if you will be able to drive yourself home. Will the eye examination affect your vision temporarily?
- Ask how much the exam will cost. Do any of your health insurance plans cover any of the cost? How is payment handled?
- If you need a translator at the eye examination visit, ask if the eye doctor has a translator. You may need to bring a translator with you to the visit
- After you make the appointment, write the doctor’s name, date, and time of the examination on a piece of paper and place the paper on your refrigerator or add a reminder in your paper or mobile phone calendar to help you remember the appointment.
Before you go in for your examination
Make a list of the following:
- Signs or symptoms of eye problems you have noticed (flashes of light, difficulty seeing at night, temporary double vision, loss of vision, etc.)
- Eye injuries or eye surgery you have had (approximate dates, hospitals where treated, etc.)
- Prescription and over-the-counter drugs you are taking
- Questions you have about your vision
- Your general health condition (allergies, chronic health problems, operations, etc.)
- Family history of eye problems (glaucoma, cataracts, etc.)
Take along the following:
- Your glasses, contact lenses or both
- Prescription and over-the-counter drugs you are taking
- Medical or health insurance card or your membership certificate
During the examination
- Ask questions about anything that seems unclear to you, such as the names and purposes of tests you may undergo
- Ask if there are any changes since your last exam
- Ask when it is best to call the doctor with questions
- Find out when you should return for your next exam
- Is there anything else I need to know?
If the eye doctor tells you have an eye or vision problem
- What is my eye or vision problem?
- What caused the eye or vision problem?
- Will it get better or worse?
- What are the treatment options?
- Do I need eyeglasses?
- Will the eye or vision problem limit my activities?
Additional eyecare resources
Most people require some kind of eye care throughout their lifetime, but how do they pay for it? Insurance can be a confusing topic in any circumstance but this is especially true when it comes to our eye health. The following fact sheets answer common questions about health insurance, the Affordable Care Act and eye care.
Medicare beneficiaries, especially those at risk for or diagnosed with a variety of diseases, are entitled to a number of vision-related services. It is especially important for people with diabetes, a family history of glaucoma, or those who have suffered an eye disease or injury to be aware of and utilize these benefits. This information is available in English and Spanish.
A list of organizations and services that provide financial assistance for vision care in English and Spanish.