The process of getting an eye exam is daunting for some patients, especially if they need contact lenses. For those patients who do wear correction, the question of when to return for another comprehensive eye exam often presents itself. Most eye care providers will tell you to return every year, but how often should you actually get your eyes examined?
This is a question that is routinely asked, and the true answer is that it depends on several factors. Many circumstances warrant more frequent eye examinations; other situations, however, indicate that you can delay your eye exam for an additional year or two. Some of these factors include age, previous ocular history, symptoms, and use of correction (glasses, contact lenses, etc.).
This article will expand on these and explain what comprises a comprehensive eye exam and why it is an essential component of your overall healthcare.
Age Plays An Important Role
This is one of the most critical factors that dictate how often your eyes should be examined. In general, younger children should be seen more frequently because many problems with binocular vision (how the eyes see and move together) in early development can lead to severe issues down the road. For example, uncorrected refractive error, eye turns, and misalignment can permanently impact the vision system if not addressed before a certain age.
A child’s first eye exam with an eye care provider (not just the pediatrician) should take place at 6 months old. Parents should bring their children in earlier if the child exhibits any unusual behaviors such as head tilting, rubbing one or both eyes, a turn of one or both of the eyes, closing of one of the eyes, or eyes that appear irritated or watery.
The earlier these abnormalities are caught, the better the functional outcome. If it is determined during the exam that the child needs correction, they will likely need to be re-examined every 6 months to ensure that the glasses are still the correct power. If there are no concerns, it is recommended that a child be examined again before entering school.
Young adults in their 20’s and 30’s are less likely to have changes in their vision and can get away with a comprehensive eye exam every 2 years or so. However, suppose you are in this age range and have a history of eye disorders like retinal detachment, genetic conditions that cause vision loss, or systemic issues like diabetes or high blood pressure. In that case, you should go to your eye care provider more frequently. Also, people in this age range are not immune to eye injuries or infections, which warrant immediate presentation for an exam.
Middle-Aged and Older Adults
Middle-aged adults from age 40-60 are likely to experience an age-related decline in their near vision (presbyopia) and would benefit from yearly eye exams to ensure that these vision changes are normal. Presbyopia is generally treated with reading glasses, and these need adjustments every year to ensure that they are still helping to provide clear near vision.
Older adults (65+ years) are more likely to have health issues and be on multiple medications, so annual eye exams are also recommended for this age group. With age also comes an increased risk of disorders like cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and glaucoma. These factors make more frequent examinations for this age group essential.
This is equally as important as age in determining how often an eye exam should be performed. As a rule of thumb, any unusual changes in vision such as flashes of light, floaters, or a sudden loss of vision should always warrant immediate presentation to your eye care provider for further evaluation. These could indicate something more serious such as a retinal detachment: a separation of the thin, inner membrane of the eye that is potentially sight-threatening. Any time you feel as if your vision has been changing is a valid reason to return for an eye exam.
In addition to vision changes, any injuries to or involving the eyes should also be immediately investigated. Even if you feel as if your vision hasn’t changed after an eye injury, it is vital to check for any subtle changes to the structure of the eyes.
Some changes might be more subtle, like eye dryness that doesn’t seem to go away.
Related: see the best contact lenses for dry eyes.
Your Eye History Matters
As mentioned above, an eye care provider should see patients with certain health issues more regularly, at least 2 times a year or more frequently, as indicated by your eye doctor. This includes problems like glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and genetic disorders that can cause vision loss. Patients who also have a family history of certain eye disorders should also consider being examined at least once a year due to the increased risk of vision or structural loss.
If I Wear Contact Lens Or Glasses Do I Need More Frequent Eye Exams?
Patients who wear any form of correction like glasses or contact lenses will need to visit their eye care provider at least once a year (or every two years) for a renewed prescription. The rules vary by state.
Because the laws in most states in the US require prescriptions to be updated yearly or every other year, you cannot buy new glasses or contact lenses without a valid prescription. If you notice any changes in your vision with your glasses, a new prescription may also be warranted.
This is especially important in contact lens wearers because overwearing your contact lenses can lead to various problems ranging from discomfort to potential vision loss. If you were day and night or extended wear contact lenses, more frequent eye exams are recommended to make sure that your eyes are able to tolerate the constant usage of contact lenses.
It’s also important to remember that you should never wear expired contact lenses.
Do I Need A Comprehensive Eye Exam
It is also worth noting that there is a difference between the types of eye exams you can have. A comprehensive eye exam includes a thorough history and medical and physical background. Your doctor will also collect a list of medications, previous surgeries, and family history. Besides the routine preliminary testing (visual acuity, tests to see how well your eyes work together, intraocular pressure), your doctor will also perform testing to determine your prescription for glasses and contacts.
Lastly, the doctor will examine the health of both the outside and inside of your eyes. Even though your eyes are small structures, they are connected to your brain and are also affected by medication and your systemic health. Keeping your eyes healthy is just one part of keeping your entire body healthy.
This is why the exam is called a comprehensive exam: because it determines the health and functionality of the eyes and the related structures. If you have vision insurance, this is covered once a year, so use those benefits before losing them!
In conclusion, the amount of times you should go in for an eye exam depends on many factors. As a rule of thumb, if you are in a higher risk group for developing ocular problems, you should present more frequently to your eye care provider. And if you are unsure, you should try to see your eye care provider at least once a year. It would never hurt to get examined, and it may bring some peace of mind!
Dr. Morgan Jones is a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) completing a residency in ocular disease. She has experience in diabetic research, along with several years of clinical research. Along with being a community outreach leader and an avid mentor and tutor, she enjoys educating outside of clinic. Dr. Jones has a B.A. in Biology from Texas A&M University.