How much do you value your eyesight? Most people would say their vision is invaluable to them. When looking for the best deal, remember that “cheaper” does not always mean “better”. When it comes to eye exams, it is important to look at the value you are getting – how comprehensive the tests are vs. the cost of the service. Some clinics take shortcuts in the exam. Before selecting a particular service based on price, call up the clinics in your area and find out what they include for the price of a general examination.
Many people are not properly informed about eye care. Some people think that if they can see well enough to perform day-to-day tasks they think it isn’t necessary to get a check-up. Others refuse to get their eyes checked because they think it will be too expensive.
What Does it Involve?
A routine vision test is to the eye what a physical is for the rest of the body. It is essential for diagnosis and prevention of both common problems and rare diseases. Typically, they will begin by asking a few questions about the patient’s health history and that of his family members. They will ask additional in depth questions if you have a family history of problems. Using a common eye exam chart (below), they will do a visual acuity test to determine the patient’s ability to see both close and far away. A color vision test is conducted by looking for patterns of colored dots. Peripheral vision is checked through a visual field test. Near vision testing is done to determine if you have presbyopia and need bifocals or progressive lenses. An pressure test and inspection of the optic nerve is done to determine whether or not you have glaucoma. The interior may be examined to check for problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts. This sometimes requires dilation of the pupil using special drops. They will also check to make sure they are working together properly. Through these tests, optometrists can recognize and diagnose all common disorders such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, presbyopia, astigmatism or glaucoma.
Why and When Should I Get it Done?
Some people think getting their eyes looked at isn’t necessary because they can see well enough to complete basic daily tasks or because they passed the screening to get/renew their driver’s license. While a screening can notify a person that they need to look into getting glasses or contacts, there are many diseases and conditions that don’t noticeably affect your vision and can only be diagnosed by a comprehensive examination. It is never a good idea to wait until your vision is damaged to get them examined as many vision problems are hard or impossible to treat/reverse.
According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), adults between the ages of 18 and 60 should have their eyes examined once every two years and individuals over the age of 61 should visit the optometrist on a yearly basis. Children should have their first one done at the age of 6 months, again when they are 3 years old and then once more just before they start school. This is because certain problems such as amblyopia, must be detected early in order to be corrected. From that point on, it is advised that kids that are risk free should have them checked every two years. Children who are classified as being at risk may need to be examined more frequently. Risk factors include, but are not limited to:
- Crossed or turned eyes (strabismus)
- High refractive error (anisometropia)
- Low birth weight or premature birth
- Mother had an infection during pregnancy (AIDS, herpes, rubella, etc.)
- Family history of eye problems
- Any other disease or illness
Note to Parents: Children often do not realize their vision is not normal. A parent should not expect their child to inform them of a problem. This is where a professional comes in.
Average Cost and Factors
The average cost of a typical test is around $50-$60 at an optical chain or retail store such as Walmart or $100-$120+ without insurance coverage at a private optrician’s office or medical clinic. While these numbers vary widely depending on a number of factors such as who is providing the service, your location, how comprehensive it is and whether or not you are covered by insurance. Contact lens exams almost always involve additional fees due to the extra procedures and tests that must be performed. Price variances aside, this is quite affordable when one takes into account the problems that are prevented by having them checked on a regular basis.
If you have insurance, it is important to find out what tests and service providers are covered before deciding on a doctor. Many insurance plans, including Medicare cover at least a part of the price. Sometimes the full exam is covered, but co-pay is typically between $5 and $35. Before making an appointment, check to see what clinics accept your insurance plan and what your benefits are. Give the secretary your insurance information while scheduling an appointment so that there is no confusion about your coverage after the exam. In cases where a particular medical issue caused the problem(s), health insurance may cover the costs.
Even without insurance, there are ways to reduce the cost. Retailers like Walmart, Costco and Target offer check ups as well as stores like Sears and JCPenney. Prices vary from store to store and location to location, but a basic exam in Walmart is around $50. Contact lens exams increase the price significantly and each optical center charges differently. The mid-range for contact lens exam/fitting is about $80 at stores like Walmart and Target. The lenses themselves can be anywhere between $220 to $260 for a year’s supply of disposable soft lenses (based on replacing them every 2 weeks) or $480-$720 for a year’s supply of daily disposable contacts. A year’s supply of extended wear silicon hydrogel lenses are around $250-$300.
Who Should I See?
Competence, friendliness and an organized office may be important to one person while another may just want the cheapest prices possible. At the very least, the doctor should be affiliated with the American Optometric Association (AOA). This organization ensures that its doctors follow regulated, professional standards.
Opticians are specialized health care practitioners who design, fit and repair lenses and glasses. They may also instruct patients on how to properly use contact lenses. They are not eye doctors. They are typically educated in technical schools or as an apprentice of an experienced optician.
Optometrists are eye care professionals who diagnose and treat vision problems and diseases through the use of low vision aids, medication, vision therapy, contacts and glasses. In most cases, they are not licensed to perform surgery. Their education consists of four years of optometry school after getting a college degree to become a Doctor of Optometry (OD).
Ophthalmologists are specialized medical doctors. They are considered both medical and surgical specialists as they are trained to perform operations in addition to prescribing medications, contacts and glasses. They are medical school graduates and have post-graduate surgical and medical care training.
Regular tests save you money by detecting and preventing problems that would have caused major problems if they were not taken care of. Many individuals have saved their eyesight by having issues detected early on during a routine examination. It is better to pay a little now than a lot later.