Regular eye tests check your vision and general eye health and can detect a range of eye conditions. The NHS recommend everyone has an eye test every two years. Some people, such as those with a family history of glaucoma, should have eye tests more often.
Many people are eligible for a free NHS eye test, including children under 16, under 19s in full-time education, the over 60s, people with diabetes or glaucoma, and more. If you do a lot of screen work as part of your job, your employer may pay for your eye test.
You can book your eye test with any high street optician, and if you’re eligible for a free NHS eye test, take evidence of eligibility with you to the test.
Who is entitled to a free eye test?
Many people are eligible for free eye tests under the NHS. Eye tests in Scotland are free for everyone. In other parts of the UK, you can get free eye tests if you meet certain criteria:
- Children under 16
- Young people under 19 in full-time education
- Adults over the age of 60
- People registered as sight impaired or severely sight impaired
- If you have diabetes or glaucoma
- If you’re over 40 and a close relative has glaucoma, or if an ophthalmologist has said you’re at risk of glaucoma
You can also get free eye tests if you receive certain benefits, including Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, and Universal Credit. Check the NHS website to see if you are eligible.
Are eye tests free for over 60s?
Yes, eye tests are free for people over 60. Some eye problems are more likely to develop as we age, such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Many people also find their vision changes with age, when it’s common to need reading glasses, bifocals or varifocals.
Are eye tests free when pregnant?
Eye tests aren’t free when you’re pregnant, but you do get free prescriptions and NHS dental care while pregnant and for a year after your baby is born.
How often should you have an eye test?
The NHS recommend we should get our eyes tested every two years. Some people need to have more regular eye tests, including people diagnosed with diabetes, glaucoma, or those at risk of glaucoma.
Children under 16 should have a sight test once a year because their vision is still developing. Any problems like refractive errors in children must be diagnosed and corrected.
How long does an eye test take?
A routine eye test typically takes between 20 to 30 minutes. If you have vision problems or other conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure, your appointment may take longer. Your optician will ask about your general health, whether you’ve noticed any eye problems or changes to your vision, then do a range of tests.
What is an eye exam?
A standard eye test involves a series of checks to assess your vision and eye health. Some opticians offer extra services like retinal imaging and Optical Coherence Tomography, which can give additional information about the health of your eyes.
Your eye test will include:
- A visual acuity test which involves reading the letters on a chart.
- Checking the front of your eye, including how your pupils react to light. A slit lamp is used to examine the surface of your eyes, including the cornea.
- Checking the inside and back of your eye. Your optometrist uses an ophthalmoscope to shine light into your eye while you look in different directions. A slit lamp can also be used to look at the back of the eyes.
- An assessment of how well your eyes work together (your binocular vision) and the health of your eye muscles.
- A refraction test which involves looking at an eye chart while wearing different lenses and telling the optician which lens makes the chart look clearer. If you need glasses or contact lenses, this helps confirm your prescription.
You may also have:
- A visual field test to check your side vision and whether you have any blind spots.
- An eye pressure test using a tonometer device to blow a puff of air at your eyes. Measuring your eye pressure helps assess your risk of some eye conditions, particularly glaucoma.
What eye tests can detect
Routine eye tests check how good your vision is and whether you need lenses to correct any refractive errors, common among people of all ages.
Eye tests can also detect eye conditions like glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration. Eye tests are especially important if you have health conditions that can cause eye problems, like diabetes or high blood pressure.
Some eye diseases can begin without causing noticeable symptoms. The first you might know about these would be from having an eye test. Early diagnosis and treatment can lead to better outcomes for many eye conditions that cause vision loss.
Frequently asked questions
Everyone should have regular eye tests. Not only do they check your vision, but they’re also a health check for your eyes. People with certain health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure may develop eye conditions that an eye test can detect. You can book a vision test at any high street or local optician, but if you notice any changes to your vision, don’t wait for your next check-up, see your optician as soon as possible.
Medically reviewed by: The Royal College of Ophthalmologists on 28/07/2022
Edited by: Nick Astbury FRCS FRCOphth FRCP
Clinical Associate Professor
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists champions excellence in the practice of ophthalmology and is the only professional membership body for medically qualified ophthalmologists. The RCOphth is unable to offer direct advice to patients. If you’re concerned about the health of your eyes, you should seek medical advice from your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.