Regular eye exams are important for more than just updating your contact lens or glasses prescription. Yes, it’s crucial to see your eye doctor to update your prescription for correcting refractive errors, but routine comprehensive eye exams are also a critical aspect of detecting eye diseases early and helping prevent vision loss.
Still, many patients are unsure how often they should get an eye exam. We asked Angela M. Plant, OD, FAAO, an optometrist and clinical instructor at the Dean McGee Eye Institute, to answer common questions our patients have.
How Often Should You Get Your Eyes Checked?
How often you should have an eye exam depends on your age, current vision problems, or various risk factors.
“Children are at risk for challenges in a learning environment if they have undiagnosed and untreated eye conditions. So it is important for all children to have a comprehensive eye exam by the age of 5 followed by regular vision screenings,” Dr. Plant says. “With additional eye exams conducted on an as-needed basis throughout childhood, if issues arise.” Read our blog for more information on when children should have their first eye exam.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends healthy adults without vision problems receive a comprehensive eye exam in their 20s followed by two exams in their 30s.
At a minimum, adults who have never had eye complications or who are not at risk for eye disease should receive a comprehensive eye exam at the age of 40. Following this initial exam, the AAO recommends follow-up exams every two to four years until the age of 54. People ages 55 to 64 should see an eye doctor every one to three years.
“However, with the tremendous increase in screen time in our work environments, we are seeing changes in vision extend past the school-aged children well into adulthood, making regular eye exams important for adults as well,” Dr. Plant says.
Older adults who are 65 years old or older should receive an exam every one to two years, regardless if they experience symptoms or not.
People with Risk Factors
More frequent exams are necessary for people who have ocular symptoms, vision changes, preexisting conditions such as diabetes, or meet certain risk factors.
For example, people who wear contacts should receive a yearly eye exam. People with type 1 diabetes need a comprehensive, dilated eye exam five years after the initial diagnosis followed by yearly visits. People with type 2 diabetes need such an exam immediately after the initial diagnosis followed by yearly visits.
“Many of our patients with ocular conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and macular degeneration must be examined more frequently than once per year,” Dr. Plant says.
African Americans and Hispanics have a higher risk of developing glaucoma and should consider an eye exam every two to four years if they’re under the age of 40. The frequency of eye exams increases for these groups as they age: every one to three years for people ages 40 to 54 and every one to two years for people ages 55 to 65.
Answering Common Eye Exam Questions
We asked Dr. Plant five common questions patients ask about eye exams and vision changes.
How Can You Tell if Your Vision has Changed?
There are many signs to watch for that indicate an eye exam is needed
“If vision is blurry or the eyes experience strain or frequent headaches, an eye exam is necessary. If the eyes are red, dry, itchy, or flashes and floaters have developed, an eye exam needs to be performed,” Dr. Plant says. “Any changes in vision or ocular irritation warrants having a thorough eye examination.”
What Should You Do Before an Eye Exam?
Although it is not required to rest your eyes before an eye exam, Dr. Plant says it does help to give your eyes a break.
“Getting a good night’s sleep and avoiding electronic devices prior to an eye exam helps maintain better focus throughout the exam which leads to more accurate testing results,” she says.
How Long Do Eye Appointments Take?
A comprehensive eye exam may sound intimidating, but that should not deter you from scheduling an appointment.
“A comprehensive eye exam including dilation may take one to two hours depending on the amount of testing needed for the individual patient,” Dr. Plant says.
Read our blog on preparing for a clinic visit to learn more about what to expect.
Can You Drive After an Eye Exam?
Having your eyes dilated can create some confusion about if it is safe to drive home following your comprehensive eye exam. In general, Dr. Plant says the answer is yes.
“Most people feel comfortable driving after a dilated eye exam. However, some do not. If you have never had your eyes dilated, it is best to bring a driver,” she says.
Should I Get My Eyes Checked While Pregnant?
Pregnant women can experience fluid shifts in the cornea that lead to blurred vision or issues with their contact lenses. Lacrimal acinar cells, which regulate the production and secretion of tear fluid, can also become disrupted and lead to dry eye.
“It is absolutely safe to have an eye examination during pregnancy,” Dr. Plant says. “Many women experience vision changes during pregnancy due to hormonal fluctuations and therefore need a comprehensive eye examination.”
Diabetic women should receive an eye exam before they become pregnant and then again during their first trimester.