Visiting an optician

When you visit an optician for an eye test, you'll be examined by an ophthalmic practitioner or optometrist who is trained to recognise abnormalities and conditions such as cataracts or glaucoma.

Ophthalmic practitioners will prescribe and fit glasses and contact lenses, and, if necessary, they will refer you to a GP or a hospital eye clinic for further investigations. Sometimes you'll be referred to a specialist optometrist for a referral refinement.

How often should I have an eye test?

Our eyes rarely hurt when something is wrong with them, so having regular eye tests is important to help detect potentially harmful conditions.

The NHS recommends that you should get your eyes tested every two years (more often if advised by your ophthalmic practitioner or optometrist).

An NHS sight (eye) test is free of charge if you are in one of the eligible groups and your sight test is considered clinically necessary. If the ophthalmic practitioner can't see a clinical need then you'll have to pay for the test privately.

For more information, read about free NHS sight tests and optical vouchers.

What happens after the eye test?

Following an eye test your ophthalmic practitioner is legally required to provide you with your optical prescription or a statement setting out that you have been referred for further tests.

An NHS optical voucher will also be issued immediately if you can prove you are entitled to one. There are currently 10 voucher values. The values are dependent on the strength of your prescription. The stronger your prescription, the higher the value your voucher will be.

You should never feel obliged to purchase glasses or redeem an optical voucher from the premises where you had your eye test. Shop around for the best value and only purchase glasses or contact lenses when you are happy with the product and cost.

How can I make a complaint?

If you are not happy with the service or treatment provided then you have the right to make a complaint.

Wherever possible, complaints should be made directly to the practice as it may be possible to sort out the problem straight away.

If you would prefer to talk to someone who is not involved with the practice concerned, you can complain to NHS England. Read in more detail about the NHS complaints procedure.

The Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS) may also be able to offer you advice or provide some mediation. Visit the OCCS website for more information.

Why won’t the optician give me my pupillary distance?

Your ophthalmic practitioner or optometrist is not required by law to include details of the horizontal distance between your pupils (the inter-pupillary distance) in your prescription.

The responsibility for ensuring that your lenses are properly centred in your frames lies with the person dispensing your glasses (dispensing optician) and they will have to do all the measuring.

Any provider of glasses, whether shop- or internet-based, should have arrangements in place to be able to satisfy this requirement.

Eye healthcare professionals explained

Dispensing opticians

Dispensing opticians fit glasses and contact lenses working from the prescriptions written by an ophthalmic practitioner or ophthalmologist. They also fit and dispense low vision aids such as magnifying glasses or telescopic spectacles. They don't carry out eye tests.

A dispensing optician can give you advice on types of lenses, such as single-vision or bifocal (lenses with two distinct optical powers), and help you to choose frames and other optical aids. They also advise patients on how to wear and care for their spectacles or contact lenses. Read about contact lens safety.


An optometrist is trained to recognise abnormalities.

Like eye surgeons (ophthalmologists), they examine the internal and external structure of your eyes to detect conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts.

They may also test a person's ability to focus and coordinate the eyes and see depth and colours accurately. If necessary, the optometrist will refer you on to your GP or a hospital eye clinic for further investigations.

Optometrists can prescribe and fit glasses, contact lenses and low vision aids, and, if trained to do so, medications to treat eye conditions.

Ophthalmic medical practitioners

Ophthalmic medical practitioners are medically qualified doctors specialising in eyecare.

Like optometrists, they examine eyes, test sight, diagnose abnormalities and prescribe suitable corrective lenses.


Ophthalmologists (eye surgeons) are doctors that specialise in the medical and surgical care of your eyes and the visual system.

They also look into the prevention of eye disease and injury. An ophthalmologist treats patients of all ages, from premature babies to the elderly.

The conditions dealt with in ophthalmology can range from eye trauma to cataracts, diabetic eye conditions – such as diabetic retinopathy – as well as congenital and genetic eye problems.


Orthoptists are specialists in squints and eye movement disorders. They investigate and identify problems relating to the development of the visual system, including:

  • squint and lazy eyes in children (orthoptists often perform vision screening of children in schools and community health centres)
  • adults with learning difficulties
  • adults with double vision or a binocular vision problem

Page last reviewed: 02/12/2016
Next review due: 02/12/2019


  • Visiting an optician