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Do I need an eye test?

Is your eyesight not quite as good as it used to be?

A senior woman having her eyes tested by an optometrist
A senior woman having her eyes tested by an optometrist

Is your eyesight not quite as good as it used to be? For most of us, getting an eye test doesn’t make the self-care to-do list until we’re literally seeing double.

As we get older, the health and structure of our eyes change. More than half of us have a long-term vision disorder (rising to 93% of people 55 and over), so there’s a good chance you’re going to need to see an optometrist at some point.

But did you know that eye tests don’t just test vision? They also assess your overall eye health so you can treat problems before they affect your sight.

Fortunately, 90% of vision loss is either preventable or treatable. And since it’s never been simpler to get a test, booking a bulk-billed* eye test just made it back on the list! You don’t even need a doctor’s referral.

Why do I need an eye test?

Many eye conditions, such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease, don’t have symptoms in the early stages, so early detection is essential to preventing irreversible vision loss.

According to nib Eye Care optometrist Jack Ma, “Not wearing glasses or contact lenses, for someone who may need them, could put their eyes through unnecessary stress and lead to the development of eye fatigue and headaches.”

“These symptoms are increasingly common in our digitised world, so it’s important to address it, as it often leads to functioning below your potential and stopping you from enjoying the things you love,” says Jack.

Many of the symptoms of poor vision go unnoticed or are misunderstood as other causes. Jack says, “This is particularly concerning in young children, where poor learning outcomes and behavioural changes are sometimes symptoms of poor vision.”

Related: Getting headaches? Here’s what you need to know about eye strain

What happens during an eye test?

Your optometrist will check your ability to see details – such as reading numbers and letters on a chart – from far away and close up. This will help them work out if you need glasses and what the prescription should be.

A check-up will also test:

  • Your field of vision (also known as peripheral vision)

  • Your ability to see colours

  • That the muscles in your eyes are working together

  • How well your eyes react to light and movement

  • The pressure inside your eyes. This is done by shooting a puff of air into your eyes and can help identify glaucoma

  • Your contrast sensitivity (how well you detect small changes in shade).

You may need more specialised eye tests if you have diabetes or high blood pressure, or an eye-related condition, such as macular degeneration or glaucoma.

To assess your health and your risks for certain eye conditions, the test also includes checking the health of the inside of the eye using a powerful microscope called a slit lamp. Your optometrists may also use eye drops to dilate your pupils as this will help them get a better look at the back of your eye to identify any eye conditions.

Risk factors of eye disease

The most common risk factors for eye disease are:

  • Smoking

  • Alcohol consumption

  • Diet

  • Ageing

  • ‘Near work’ such as reading or looking at a computer screen

  • Ultraviolet (UV) light

  • Family history of glaucoma

  • Being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent.

Vision Australia recommends that even people without risk factors get an eye examination every second year, and more regularly if you notice any problems with your vision.

In the meantime, you can look after your eyes by:

  • Protecting them from UV light with good quality sunglasses (especially in Australia)

  • Eating a balanced diet, which can help slow the progression of some eye diseases

  • Stopping smoking.

Related: What is UV damage and how does it affect your eyes?

Ready to book in an eye test?

It’s important to have your eyes tested by an optometrist at least every two years and more regularly if you notice any eye problems. You can visit nib's First Choice network to help you to search for local optometrists; it's our community of specially selected health providers, who have promised they will deliver quality care and value for money.

At nib, we offer a range of Extras covers that include optical benefits. If you’re already an nib member, you can check your current policy using member account. Alternatively, you can get a quote online in just minutes.

*Bulk billed eye examinations are subject to Medicare eligibility.