Seeing an eye doctor is the best way to stay on top of your eye health — and eye doctors aren’t just for people who need glasses or contacts. Many common eye diseases don’t have any early warning signs, so getting an eye exam is the only way to be sure your eyes are healthy.

When do I need to see an eye doctor?

Your regular doctor may check your eyes quickly during an appointment. But that’s not enough to keep your eyes healthy in the long run. It’s time to see an eye doctor if:

  • Your vision is blurry or your eyes are red, swollen, or painful
  • You’re not seeing in focus, even when you’re wearing your glasses or contacts
  • You think you may have a vision problem or eye disease
  • Your doctor says you need a dilated eye exam

What kind of eye doctor do I need?

There are 2 basic types of eye doctors: optometrists and ophthalmologists. The best choice depends on your eye care needs.

For all-around eye care…

Either an optometrist or ophthalmologist is a good option. Both of these types of eye doctors can:

  • Give you a comprehensive dilated eye exam
  • Write a prescription for glasses or contacts
  • Prescribe medicines

Wondering what to expect from a dilated eye exam? Learn more about dilated eye exams.

For treating serious eye problems…

You may want to see an ophthalmologist. This type of eye doctor may offer treatments — like surgery — that optometrists don’t. Some ophthalmologists specialize in specific eye diseases, like glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy.

glasses icon

Getting glasses or contacts?

After your eye doctor gives you an exam and writes a prescription, see an optician. Opticians aren’t doctors, but they’ll use your prescription to set you up with the right glasses or contacts.

Your eye doctor may have an optician working in their office. You can also find opticians in stores that sell glasses and contacts.

How do I find a doctor who’s the right fit?

Ask for recommendations.

Start by asking your regular doctor to share the names of local eye doctors. Talk to your family and trusted friends, too. What do they like — or not like — about their eye doctors?

Look online.

Use these online tools to find an eye doctor near you:

If you have health insurance, you can also check your plan’s website to find eye doctors in your area.

Find out how much you’ll need to pay.

If you have health insurance, call your insurance company and ask:

  • What eye care services does my plan cover?
  • What will my out-of-pocket costs be?
  • Can you give me a list of eye doctors who are in my plan’s network?

Keep in mind that many plans — including some Medicare plans — don’t cover routine eye exams or eyeglasses.

If you don’t have health insurance, or if your plan doesn’t cover eye care, call the eye doctor’s office and ask how much the appointment will cost.

dollar sign icon

Need help paying for eye care?

Schedule an appointment.

Before you meet with your eye doctor, it’s a good idea to write down your questions to help you make the most of your visit. Get tips on how to talk to your eye doctor.

Think about whether it’s a good fit.

After the appointment, ask yourself:

  • Did the doctor and office staff explain things in a way you could understand?
  • Did you get a chance to ask questions?
  • Did you feel rushed during the appointment?
  • Do you feel like you and the doctor could work together as a team?

Taking the time to find an eye doctor you trust is worth it. If you’re not happy with how things are going, it’s okay to look for a different eye doctor.

Note: NEI does not endorse or recommend specific eye care professionals.

Last updated: July 2019