impact on life - healthcare publishing

Sight and Eye Care

What is an Optometrist?

Optometrists are professionals who manage eye health care. They are known as eye care specialists. They have a wide range of knowledge on all aspects of eye health enabling them to perform eye health checks to determine the health of our eyes and what we can see. They are able to provide treatment/advice for various eye problems/diseases and spectacles/ contact lenses to correct visual problems. If you have a red eye or pain in your eyes or any kind of eye problem your first port of call should be to your local Optometrist.

Common Eyesight Problems

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); presbyopia; 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.

Sight Tests - how often should you go?

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, your local hospital's eye department or your local optometrist may do home visits.

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.

NHS Sight Tests

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:

  • are under 16, or aged 18 or under and still in full-time education
  • are aged 60 or over
  • are registered as severely sight impaired / blind or sight-impaired / partially sighted
  • have diabetes or glaucoma
  • are aged 40 or over with a first degree relative (e.g. parent) with glaucoma, or you have been diagnosed as being at risk of glaucoma
  • have been advised by an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) that you're at risk of glaucoma
  • are someone whose sight test is carried out through the hospital eye department as part of the management of your eye condition
  • are a prisoner on leave from prison
  • are eligible for an NHS complex lens voucher - your optician can advise you about your entitlement

You're also entitled to a free NHS sight test if you or your partner are under 20 years of age and the dependent of someone receiving:

  • receive Income Support
  • receive Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (not Contribution-based)
  • receive Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
  • receive Income-based Employment and Support Allowance
  • Universal Credit and meet the criteria
  • are entitled to, or named on, a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate
  • you are named on a valid NHS certificate for full help with health costs (HC2)

People named on an NHS certificate for partial help with health costs (HC3) may also get help.

Getting glasses or contact lenses

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:

  • under 16
  • aged 18 or under and still in fulltime education
  • an adult on certain benefits
  • are eligible for an NHS complex lens voucher (your ophthalmic practitioner will advise you on your entitlement)
  • named on a valid NHS exemption certificate
  • You are named on a valid NHS certificate for full help with health costs (HC2).

You can find out more about NHS optical vouchers on the NHS Choices website at You may also want to obtain a copy of the Department of Health's HC12 leaflet, which outlines current NHS charges and entitlements, which you can find at

Replacing glasses on the NHS

Children under 16 years of age are entitled to a free NHS optical repair/replacement 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 are eligible for an NHS optical voucher and 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 NHS Business Service Authority, so that they can assess your claim. If they agree that you are entitled to help with replacement glasses, they will send you an NHS optical voucher to help you cover the costs.

To download the Sight and Hearing Publication please select the relevant area: