Why School Vision Screenings Just Don’t Cut It: The Importance of Regular Eye Exams

Eye care professionals recommend you have an eye exam every one to two years. This recommendation may vary depending on your age, risk factors and whether you wear eyeglasses or contacts. Though vision screenings are sometimes done for kids at school, eye exams are still important. Vision screenings at school may find an issue with your child’s vision, but they aren’t a substitute for a comprehensive eye exam. An exam is more in-depth, can catch problems a screening may miss, and allows eye doctors to identify the underlying causes behind issues a screening does identify.

How Often Should Children Get an Eye Exam?

Child happy with his glasses at standard optical
Child happy with his glasses at standard optical

Experts say approximately 80% of all learning comes from our visual pathways. Yet one in four children with a correctable refractive error does not have it fixed properly. A University of Bristol study also discovered that brain-related visual problems likely affect one in 30 school-aged children. Because of this, it’s recommended that children have their first eye exam at 6 months of age. Another exam should be done at age three and again before the start of first grade. If a child is not at risk, they can continue having their eyes examined every year until age 18.

Children with risk factors for vision problems may need their first eye exam earlier than 6 months of age and may need eye exams more frequently throughout childhood.

Examples of Risk Factors for Children:

  • Children need regular eye exams to detect vision problems that may interfere with learning
  • Family history of vision problems, such as myopia (nearsightedness), strabismus (crossed eyes), amblyopia (lazy eye), retinoblastoma, or a genetic disease that affects the eyes
  • Prematurity birth or low birth weight
  • Difficult labor associated with fetal distress
  • Extended use of supplemental oxygen at birth
  • Infection of mother during pregnancy (examples: rubella, venereal disease, herpes, AIDS)
  • Developmental delays
  • Maternal smoking, drinking or drug use during pregnancy
  • Functional vision in only one eye
  • Physical illness or diseases
  • Eye disorders such as high refractive error, strabismus and anisometropia
  • Health issues associated with ocular conditions
  • Taking a medication with ocular side effects
  • Children who currently wear eyeglasses or contact lenses should also have annual eye exams.


Age range

Birth to age 2

Age 3 to 5 years old

Age 6 to 17 years, or as advised by your doctor

Low-risk children

One exam between 6 and 12 months old

At least one exam between age 3 and 5

Before first grade and every year thereafter

At-risk children

Between 6 and 12 months old, or as advised by your doctor

At least one exam between age 3 and 5, or as advised by your doctor

Before first grade and every year thereafter, or as advised by your doctor

How Often Should Adults Get an Eye Exam?

To maintain a lifetime of healthy vision, adults ages 18 to 60 should have a comprehensive eye exam at least once every two years. Older adults (ages 65 and older) should have annual eye exams. “At risk” adults should have an exam at least once every year, or as recommended by their doctor.

Risk factors for Adults Include:

  • Family history of eye disease, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration
  • Diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses
  • Belonging to a high-risk racial or ethnic group (such as Latino or African American)
  • Taking prescription or over-the-counter medications that may have eye-related side effects
  • Previous eye injuries or eye surgery (including cataract surgery)
  • A visually demanding occupation or one that may pose hazards to the eyes (e.g., firefighter, mechanic, welder, etc.)
  • Adults who have had refractive surgery, such as LASIK, PRK or SMILE, still need to have an eye exam every one to two years. Eye exams don’t just measure good vision, they assess overall eye health.

If you have any doubts about how often you (or your children or parents) should have an eye exam, ask your eye doctor.


Age range

Up to 39 years old

40 to 64 years old

65 and older

Low-risk adults

At least every two years

At least every two years

Every year

At-risk adults

At least annually, or as recommended

At least annually, or as recommended

At least annually, or as recommended

*Official Recommendation of American Optometric Association

What Is the Difference Between a Vision Screening and an Eye Exam?

A vision screening is a short assessment done through a child’s school for free. Screenings do not offer a diagnosis but can reveal signs that your child needs to see an eye doctor, such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist. During a vision screening, the school nurse will check your child’s distance vision, near vision and color vision. Their depth perception and convergence ability may also be tested.

As kids get older, school screenings may only assess near and distant vision. Though the vision screening process varies from state to state, it is usually done when a child enters a new school district. For returning students, screenings are usually done in kindergarten and first grade, then every other year afterward. Experts agree that vision screenings are not reliable in ruling out problems with vision, and that an eye exam is the best way to monitor and maintain a child’s eye health and visual acuity.

During a pediatric eye exam, an eye doctor will ask about your child’s medical history and any trouble they may be having with their eyes. They will examine the outer parts of their eyes, including the:

  • Conjunctiva
  • Corneas
  • Sclera
  • Pupils
  • Irises
  • Eyelids

To look inside the eye, where the retina and optic nerve are located, the doctor may need to dilate your child’s pupils.

Before checking any patient’s ocular health, an eye doctor will measure their visual acuity and test their visual field. These measurements let the doctor know how clear their patient’s central vision is before the eyes may be affected by dilation or other parts of the exam. By gathering information in an eye exam, your eye doctor will be able to detect and diagnose any vision or eye problems you may be experiencing and treat them accordingly.


Over 110 years ago, the founder of Standard Optical, Henry Schubach, made a promise to the communities within Utah and the intermountain west area that he would make eye care affordable to every child, regardless of their situation. Thus, the No Risk Eye Exam was born, which is this: kids under the age of 18 should have an eye exam every year before school. If the child’s vision is 20/20 and free or any disorders of the eye, the exam is FREE, therefore eliminating cost as a barrier. This policy is still in force at Standard Optical.

DID YOU KNOW: Standard Optical has done cataract surgery on dozens of patients who are over 65 but who had their first eye exam (no risk no doubt) at Standard Optical as young as age 2. Now that’s long-term patient commitment!

Eye Exam Cost

The cost of an annual eye exam is normally covered by vision insurance. Without insurance, the price varies depending on if it’s for glasses or contacts. In some rural areas you may notice a higher exam cost than in the city. This is a questionable practice and if this is the case where you live, call Standard Optical for other options such as telehealth, online exams and mobile vision clinics. There are also several organizations that provide free eye exams and glasses for those who are eligible.

What People Say About Us
quotation marks