DIABETESLook after your eyes

Look after your eyes

Have an eye test at your optician

When did you last have an eye test? An eye test is not just a check for your vision: it is also a vital health check for your eyes and more. Read on to find out why everyone should have a regular eye test…

By Clive Marchant FBDO, President of the Association of British Dispensing Opticians
and Dispensing Optician and ABDO Vice President, Jo Holmes FBDO

More than a vision test
An eye test is a vital health check for your eyes. Every adult needs an eye test every two years, and some people may be advised to have a test more often.
During the eye test the optometrist checks if you need spectacles or if your prescription has changed, but they do much more than that too.
When you have your eyes examined, the optometrist checks for eye diseases like glaucoma that you might not be aware that you are developing. Many of these conditions are treatable, but it is best to get them detected before they start causing problems. If undetected and untreated they could cause irreversible damage. An eye test can save your sight, and help you stay healthy too.
Most people should get their eyes tested every two years. For some people, it is important to have an eye test more frequently. Here are a few groups that might be recommended to come back sooner:

  • children
  • people aged 40 or over with a family history of glaucoma
  • people aged 70 or over
  • people with diabetes

What happens during an eye test?
An eye test contains a number of routine parts:

  • Your history – the optometrist will ask
    about your medical history, medication and whether anyone in your family has eye problems. You should tell the optometrist about any difficulties you have with focusing, headaches or other problems.
  • Checking your eye health – the optometrist will use a bright light to check the inside and outside of the eyes for signs of disease.
  • Checking your vision – the optometrist will ask you to read letters on a chart and use different lenses to see how much your vision can be improved for distant and near objects. Picture charts are available for children and adults with learning disabilities.
  • Checking how your eyes work together – the optometrist will ask you to look at a letter or object and will then cover one eye at a time to see how well your eyes work together.
  • Checking the pressure inside your eyes – your eye is filled with fluid, sometimes the pressure of the fluid rises which can cause sight loss. The optometrist should check the pressure inside your eyes at every test once you reach the age of 40. This can be done with a machine that blows a little puff of air on the eye or by resting a small probe on the eye.
  • Checking your field of vision – the optometrist will check how well you can see at the edge of your field of vision using a test that flashes faint spots of light.
    Many groups of people qualify for a free NHS-funded sight test and some people also get help towards the cost of spectacles.
    Pop into your local opticians to find out if you’re eligible. In Scotland, all residents receive a free NHS funded exam.

But I don’t need spectacles!
You may not need spectacles, but the eye test is a great way to check up on the health of your eyes – and your body too. Did you know an optometrist can see signs of conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes when they check the eye? Because the front of the eye is clear, it gives a unique view of the blood vessels which run across the back of your eye allowing the optometrist a unique insight into your health. If they spot signs of health problems they will refer you to your GP for further investigations.
Clive Marchant FBDO is President of the Association of British Dispensing Opticians. He says, “We all become more likely to get eye disease as we get older – however healthy you are. Glaucoma causes damage to your vision very slowly, and for most people it is painless so you can lose sight without even knowing it.

Early detection of glaucoma through an eye test really can save your sight. An eye test can pick up signs of the other main causes of sight loss too, such as cataract and macular degeneration. You should attend for this vital health check at least every two years, or sooner if you have any visual problems or physical discomfort in your eyes.”

If you do need spectacles
If you need spectacles, ask to talk to the dispensing optician. A dispensing optician (DO) can give you advice and help you choose comfortable spectacles to suit your face. The DO will explain to you about the different lenses that you can choose. They will ask questions about your work and life to help you make the best choice for you.
Dispensing Optician and ABDO Vice President Jo Holmes FBDO says, “Most people opt for plastic lenses today: they are lighter and safer. Modern lenses are light weight plastic and we recommend asking for scratch resistant lenses. More and more people are opting for reflection free lenses. This allows more light to pass through the lens, with the dual benefits of letting you see more clearly, especially at night, and allowing people to see your eyes clearly too.”

I need spectacles to help me read. What are my choices?
If you need spectacles to help you read, you can opt for spectacles that just focus your sight on close work. Jo Holmes advises,
“You may prefer varifocals or bifocals, where a portion of the lens is suitable for distance vision too. People who wear spectacles for distance work all the time, and get to the age where they need a different prescription for reading most choose varifocal or bifocal lenses. These allow you to swap from distance to close work without changing spectacles. Like all new spectacles, varifocals are very easy to use with little adaption. Some people prefer to have a different pair of spectacles for distance and for close work. This can work well if you are unsteady on your feet, or if you do one task for a long period of time and don’t need to swap your spectacles often.”

Should my kids have an eye test too?
Opticians can look after the eyes of children, toddlers and even babies. If you’re wondering when to start getting your child’s eyes checked, do make sure that they are seen as a toddler, well before they start school. Jo Holmes says, “Some eye development issues can be treated more effectively if they are discovered by the age of three, and your little one won’t struggle to learn.”
If you don’t already attend an optical practice yourself, ask friends for recommendations. Some practices specialise in eye care for small children, while others are well set up for children with special needs so there is no need for any child to miss out on eye care.
Did you know that a registered dispensing optician is the best person to help you get spectacles for your child? Only a registered DO or Optometrist can legally fit spectacles to your child and is trained to help you choose a frame that fits well, as well as one that appeals to your child. Jo Holmes says, “Let the DO point you in the right directions for frames which will fit your child’s face – just like having your child’s feet measured it’s best to start with the right size and shape. There is plenty of choice of fun, funky and fashionable frames.”
Beyond frames, there are different types of lenses available, and your dispensing optician can guide your choices there too. Some children will benefit from thinner lenses, while others will want stronger lenses and well-designed frames that make it safe to play all sorts of sports. The optician can also discuss the option of contact lenses which will appeal to older children.
Ask your local optical practice if you can speak to a dispensing optician when you next need eye care advice or spectacles for your child. And remember, it is a good idea to return regularly for your child’s spectacles to be adjusted to ensure optimum fit and visual performance. The practice team will be happy to help with your child’s spectacles.
If you’re concerned about the cost of an eye test for your child, don’t worry! Children under 16, as well as those aged 16-18 in full time education get the cost of their eye test covered by the NHS. Children in these groups will also get a voucher towards the cost of a pair of spectacles.

Take action on your eye health
If you haven’t ever had an eye test, or think it may be some time since you visited the optician, take action today. Clive Marchant says, “There’s no time like the present to book an eye test. Call into your local optical
practice and have a chat with the friendly staff there. Remember, an eye test could save your sight.”

Clive Marchant FBDO is President of the Association of British Dispensing Opticians and Jo Holmes FBDO is a Dispensing Optician and ABDO Vice President,


Search for EyecareFAQ online to find out more about looking after your eyes, or visit www.abdo.org.uk/eyecarefaq

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