But everyone needs regular eye exams. This is particularly important if you have risk factors or a family history of eye problems. Children need their vision checked at 6 months, 3 years, and before first grade. Adults should see an eye doctor at least every two years and annually after age 60.
In a tough economy, saving money is on everyone's mind. But when it comes to eye care, experts say that what you do to save money today may put you at risk of much higher costs in the future.
"As people try to ration their income, they will often choose to forgo or skip their routine eye exam," says Samuel Pierce, OD, a Trussville, Ala.-based optometrist and a board member of the American Optometric Association. "It's penny-wise and health care-foolish."
Your doctor may recommend more frequent exams if you have a health condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, work in a visually demanding job, or take medications that can affect eyesight.
Preparing for Your Eye Exam
When you call to make an appointment for an eye exam, briefly and clearly describe any vision problem you're having.
Before you go, list questions for the eye doctor. Be prepared to discuss any drugs you're taking and your (and your family's) eye health history.
When you go, take your glasses and/or contact lenses, if you use them, and sunglasses for the trip home with your pupils dilated.
During Your Eye Exam
Before your eye exam, the eye doctor or an office staff member will take your medical and vision history.
Your eye exam may take from half an hour to an hour. It will evaluate both your vision and the health of your eyes.
You'll likely have all or most of the following eye tests (you may also have more specialized eye tests):
Eye muscle movement test: To test muscle strength and control, the doctor will ask you to visually track a target in different directions and observe your eye movements.
Cover test: This is a check for how well your eyes work together. As you stare at a small target some distance away, the doctor will cover and uncover each eye to observe how much your eyes move, watching for an eye that turns away from the target (strabismus). The test may be repeated with a target close to you.
External exam and pupillary reactions: The doctor will watch the reactions of your pupils to light and objects at close distance. At the same time, the doctor will check the exterior eye, looking at things such as the condition of the white of the eyes and the position of your eyelids.
Visual acuity test: You'll sit in front of an eye chart, with letters that get smaller as you read down each line. You cover each eye in turn and, using the other eye, read aloud, going down the chart, until you can't read the letters anymore.
Retinoscopy: The eye doctor may shine a light in your eyes and flip lenses in a machine (phoropter) that you look through while staring at a large target, such as a big "E," or the doctor may use an automated machine (refractor) for the same purpose. By checking the way light reflects from your eyes, the doctor gets an approximate idea of the lens prescription you need now.