The most common eyesight problems any of us experience are those that can be easily corrected by glasses or contact lenses, e.g. long-sightedness (hyperopia); short-sightedness (myopia); and astigmatism.
Common eye problems that are not directly related to vision loss include dry eye, conjunctivitis and blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids). Children may experience problems that are associated with vision development and these are most commonly lazy eye (amblyopia) and squints or turns in the eye (strabismus).
Problems such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration are longerterm conditions that may cause vision loss.
By having regular check-ups and wearing glasses or contact lenses if you need them, you can prevent problems with your eyes in the future.
Around 90% of Brits say sight is the sense they dread losing the most. Yet, worryingly, 40% of us do not have our eyes checked every two years, as recommended.
Sight tests are the most reliable way of identifying potential problems with your eyes early on. For this reason, you are advised to visit your optician for a sight test at least once every two years; although you may be asked to attend more frequently depending on your age and medical history.
Sight tests are generally carried out by a qualified optometrist or an ophthalmic medical practitioner at a high street opticians or your local hospital's eye department.
As a rule of thumb, they take between 20 and 30 minutes to complete and, as well as checking your vision and need for glasses or contact lenses, they also include checks for eye diseases - like glaucoma or cataracts - or general health problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, which can have a knock-on effect on your eyesight.
Generally, an eye test will involve you being asked to read a series of letters from a chart on display in front of you. The letters become progressively smaller on each line of the chart. You may also be asked to look at a pattern of dots or lines, perhaps on a green or red background, and identify which looks clearer or sharper.
If you are taking a sight test for the first time in some while, you should not wear your glasses or contact lenses. However, you should be advised when you make your appointment as to whether you need to take your contact lenses out prior to your sight test. This is sometimes necessary because contact lenses can affect the short-term shape of your eye and may alter your vision as a result.
At the end of the sight test, your optician should discuss the results with you and advise you of the best course of action. If any problems that require further investigation or treatment are identified by your optician as a result of your sight test, they will be able to refer you to your local doctor or the appropriate hospital consultant ophthalmologist (specialist eye doctors who diagnose and treat eye disorders) for further treatment. It is also possible to arrange to be seen at a private eye clinic or hospital.
It is not necessary to register with one particular optician in the way it is to register with a doctor, for example. These days, many high street companies provide an optician alongside other services. However, if you choose to return to the same optician, they will keep your records on file and many offer payment plans to enable you to spread the cost of glasses or contact lenses throughout the year.
You can discuss with your optician whether or not you need to pay for your sight test or are eligible to claim for NHS optical vouchers towards the cost of your glasses or contact lenses.
As discussed, regular sight tests are important to check the health of your eyes. This is especially the case for children as, by identifying sight problems early on, they can be helped with potential learning and development problems.
Regular checks are also especially important if you are a driver or your eyesight may be affected by your occupation (e.g. a VDU operator). Individuals with medical conditions such as diabetes, glaucoma or high blood pressure need to be vigilant too.
You may be entitled to a free NHS sight test if you:
If you need glasses or contact lenses, a prescription will be given to you following your sight test - this will be valid for two years, and gives opticians the information they need about your vision in each eye to supply and fit glasses or contact lenses according to your individual needs.
All glasses and contact lenses are provided privately. However, some people are entitled to an NHS optical voucher to help towards the cost of buying new glasses or contact lenses, or repairing or replacing an existing pair of glasses that has been broken or lost.
You may be entitled to NHS optical vouchers if you are:
You can find out more about NHS optical vouchers on the Department of Health website (www.dh.gov.uk). You may also want to obtain a copy of the Department of Health's HC12 leaflet, which outlines current NHS charges and entitlements
Children under 16 years of age are entitled to a free NHS optical voucher, which will help towards the cost of repairing or replacing damaged or lost glasses. Your optician will be able to give you further information about obtaining a voucher.
If you are aged 16 or over, you will only be entitled to help with repair or replacement costs if you have an illness that caused the loss or damage of your glasses or contact lenses. For example, if you have an illness that affects your balance or a condition which causes seizures, such as epilepsy, then your glasses may have been damaged as the result of a seizure or fall.
To qualify for help with repair costs or replacement glasses, your glasses or contact lenses cannot be covered by a warranty, insurance or any after-sales service.
If you think you might be eligible for replacement glasses or contact lenses, you should ask your optician for a GOS4 form, which - once completed - should be forwarded to your local Primary Care Trust (PCT) so that they can assess your claim. If your PCT agrees that you are entitled to help with replacement glasses, they will send you an NHS optical voucher to help you cover the costs.