Different professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and the American Optometric Association (AOA), have somewhat different recommendations. But they are close enough in principle to give you some ballpark guidelines.
Infants and Children
Babies should be screened for eye disease soon after birth, or no later than 6 months of age. Children should have their eyes checked at about age 3, and again around age 5 or 6.
Infants and young children may need to be followed more closely if they were premature, the mother had certain diseases during pregnancy, or if eye disease or severe vision problems run in the family. After age 6, barring special circumstances, kids should have eye exams every two years until they are in their teens.
Recommendations for Adults
For adults age 18 to 60, the AOA advises exams every two or three years, followed by annual exams after 60. However, the AAO recommends “occasional” exams between the ages of 18 and 40. Around age 40, the AAO urges a comprehensive eye exam, followed by a check-up every two to five years.
The AAO used to recommend more regular exams, but now the group thinks the schedule should be determined by existing vision problems and eye disease, and whether an individual is at risk for such problems.
These recommendations are for people in good health. If you have diabetes, hypertension, AIDS, or a family history of glaucoma, cataracts or other eye disease, ask your eye doctor how often you should have your eyes checked. You may also need more frequent checkups if you are taking medication with side effects that can affect vision.
African-Americans have a much higher risk of glaucoma and tend to get it at a much earlier age. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African-Americans, but as with Caucasians, blindness is preventable if the disease is detected early enough.
Since glaucoma rarely shows symptoms until some damage is done, African-Americans are advised to have a glaucoma exam by age 35 or 40 at the latest. Those who have a family history of glaucoma may want to begin their exams even earlier.
After age 40, most people will start to have some deterioration in their vision. If you are having trouble seeing, or have any other symptoms involving your eyes, possibly including headaches, do not wait until you are “due” to have an exam. Call your eye doctor right away for an appointment.