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Eye Exams: Cost, How to Prepare

how much do eye exams cost without insurance

and What to Expect

On this page: Eye exam costs • When to have your eyes examined • What to bring to your eye exam

Common questions about eye exams include: How much does an eye exam cost? How frequently should I have my eyes examined? What should I bring with me to my exam?

These guidelines can help you prepare for your next (or first) eye exam .

Eye Exam Costs

Eye exams are available through several different venues, including an independent eye doctor's office, the eye department of a multidisciplinary medical clinic, a group eye care practice (optometrists, ophthalmologists or both), and at an optical retailer or optical shop that also offers eye exams by an affiliated optometrist .

Also, large retailers like Walmart, Costco and Target have optical departments where you can undergo an eye exam.

The cost of an eye exam can vary significantly, based on where you get your exam and other factors, including:

  • Whether the exam is performed by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist
  • The tests that are included in the exam
  • Whether the exam includes a contact lens fitting or other contact lens-related services

Generally, eye exam costs can range from less than $50 (usually at a retail store or optical chain) to $100 or more (usually at a medical clinic or private eye doctor's office). Also, eye exams for contact lenses nearly always cost more than routine eye exams to update your eyeglasses prescription.

When comparing how much an eye exam costs, be sure you are comparing "apples to apples." A comprehensive eye exam should include at least the following:

Eye Exam Poll Results

When we asked our site visitors when they had last undergone an eye exam, here's what we learned:

Of all the respondents, 65.6 percent said their last eye exam was during the past two years. That sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

But the true picture may not be so rosy. After all, people visiting this website are probably more interested in their eye health than the rest of the population and may be more likely to have had a recent exam.

Unfortunately, 12.2 percent of those polled said their last eye exam was more than five years ago, with 8 percent saying they had never had one.

Often people say that vision is the most important of the senses. If that's true, why do so many of us not take good care of it?

Note: Poll results shown here are from 12,068 respondents from late October 2010 through May 2013. — L.S.

  • A review of your personal and family health history and any history of eye problems
  • Evaluation of your distance and near vision with an eye chart
  • Evaluation for the presence of nearsightedness. farsightedness. astigmatism and presbyopia
  • Near vision testing to determine if you have presbyopia and need progressive lenses or bifocals
  • Evaluation of your eyes' ability to work together as a team
  • An eye pressure test and examination of the optic nerve to rule out glaucoma
  • Examination of the interior of your eyes to rule out other eye problems, such as cataracts and macular degeneration

Contact lens exams typically include additional tests and procedures to those noted above.

More Info
  • Learn how Optometry Giving Sight helps 670 million people to see again Get affordable coverage for eye exams, eyeglasses, contact lenses and more

Be sure to ask what tests are included when you obtain information about eye exam costs. Some locations will advertise a low exam fee, but upon arrival you may be informed you must pay extra if you want certain procedures — such as pupil dilation, retinal photos, etc. — that may be included in a higher exam fee quoted elsewhere.

Certain "intangibles" should be considered when you compare eye exam costs, such as the professionalism and friendliness of the doctor

and his or her staff, the level of training of the doctor's assistants, how long you must wait to be seen, the cleanliness of the office, advanced (vs. outdated) exam equipment used and the convenience of the office location and hours of operation.

It's also a good idea when choosing an eye doctor to ask friends for referrals and to "shop around" first via a personal visit to the office before scheduling an exam.

Many vision insurance plans, including Medicare. cover at least a portion of eye exam services. Check to see what your benefits are and what doctors participate in your plan before you make an appointment. Then be sure to give the doctor's office your insurance information when scheduling your exam to avoid any misunderstandings about your coverage.

When To Have Your Eyes Examined

Most eye care experts recommend that you have a complete eye exam every one to three years, depending on your age, risk factors and whether you currently wear corrective lenses.

Children need regular eye exams to detect vision problems that may interfere with learning.

Children. Routine eye exams are essential for children to be ready to learn in school, and experts say more than 80 percent of information children receive in classrooms is presented visually.

According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), children generally should have their first eye exam at 6 months of age, another exam at age three and again at the start of school. Risk-free children should then continue to have their eyes examined every two years until age 18.

Children with risk factors for vision problems may need their first eye exam earlier than 6 months of age and may need more frequent eye exams throughout childhood. Examples of risk factors include:

  • History of premature birth or low birth weight
  • Infection of mother during pregnancy (examples: rubella, venereal disease, herpes, AIDS)
  • Developmental delays
  • Turned or crossed eyes (strabismus )
  • Family history of eye disease
  • High refractive error or anisometropia
  • Other physical illness or disease

Also, children who currently wear eyeglasses or contact lenses should have annual eye exams, according to the AOA.

Unfortunately, many American children don't receive the eye care they need, and children in poor families are at the greatest risk of undetected vision problems. According to the National Commission on Vision and Health (NCVH), 83 percent of families earning less than twice the federal poverty level include children who have not had an eye exam in the last year.

Currently, 15 states do not require any form of vision screenings or exams for children prior to them beginning school, resulting in "a public health emergency for millions of children," according to NCVH. Even in states that have requirements for vision screenings for schoolchildren, researchers found that screenings failed to detect vision problems in one-third of children who had them, and most of the children who fail vision screenings don't receive the follow-up vision care they need, NCVH says.*

Seniors need regular eye exams to avoid sight-threatening diseases.

Adults. To maintain a lifetime of healthy vision, the AOA recommends a comprehensive eye exam every two years for adults ages 18 to 60, and annual exams for seniors age 61 and older.

"At risk" adults should have more frequent exams. Risk factors for adults include:

  • A family history of eye disease (glaucoma, macular degeneration, etc.)
  • Diabetes or high blood pressure
  • A visually demanding occupation or one that may pose hazards to the eyes
  • Taking prescription or non-prescription drugs that may have visual or eye-related side effects
  • Previous eye injuries or eye surgery

Also, adults who wear contact lenses should have annual eye exams, according to the AOA.

If you have any doubt how often you (or your children or parents) should have your eyes examined, ask your eye care professional for guidance.

Recommended Eye Exam Frequency for Children

Patient Age or Situation

Category: Insurance

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