If you want to wear contact lenses—either instead of or in addition to glasses—then getting a contact lens exam is a necessary first step. 

A contact lens exam isn’t the same thing as a comprehensive eye exam for glasses. Rather, it’s a series of tests and measurements specifically designed to match your eyes with the right contacts for their needs. 

Contact Lens Exam vs. Eye Exam: What’s Included?

When you go to your optometrist for an annual check-up, you’re there for a comprehensive eye exam. The optometrist will look at the various parts of your eyes to assess their health and investigate any abnormalities or signs of disease

They’ll also test your visual acuity, perform a refraction, check your ocular health, and more. These tests allow them to write you a prescription for glasses if you need vision correction.  

A contact lens exam, by contrast, is only conducted if you want to wear contact lenses or update your existing contact lens prescription. Unlike eyeglasses, contact lenses sit directly on your eyes—this is just one of the reasons why contacts require an additional exam. A contact lens exam can be added to the appointment alongside a comprehensive eye exam, but it’s a separate series of tests and conversations.

A contact lens exam can have several components, including a consultation with the optometrist, measurements of a few key parts of your eyes, a tear film evaluation, and a confirmation of the lens correction and fit. If it’s your first time wearing contacts, this process may also include some instruction on putting in and taking out your contacts. All of these procedures ensure that your contacts will fit comfortably—yes, there are different sizes!—and give you the clearest vision possible.   

How Much Does a Contact Lens Exam Cost? 

Contact lens exams typically cost somewhere between $100 and $250. At Warby Parker stores, eye exams for glasses and contacts start at $120 (prices may vary depending on the location). 

Contact lens exams involve highly detailed measurements of your eye and an optometrist’s expertise in fitting you with the right size lens and the right prescription. It’s a multi-step process that can kick off a lifelong relationship with contact lenses—the cost correlates with the effort and knowledge necessary for the optometrist to complete the exam. 

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How Often Do You Need a Contact Lens Exam?

Just like your regular eye exams, contact lens exams should occur yearly. Annual contact lens exams enable your provider to update or renew your prescription, check for any contact-related health issues, and allow you to ask your optometrist for any further recommendations. 

To save time, you can always request that your contact lens exam be conducted at the same appointment as your comprehensive eye exam. 

What Happens During a Contact Lens Exam? 

Want to know what to expect during a contact lens exam? Yours may not include all of the components below, as different optometrists have different routines. However, these are the most common steps you’ll encounter as you get ready to be a contact lens-wearer. 

Contact Lens Consultation

A brief consultation gives you the chance to ask any questions you might have about wearing and caring for contacts. 

During the consultation, your optometrist will speak with you about which types of contact lenses will suit your visual needs and your lifestyle. They’ll want to know the answers to questions like: Do you plan on wearing contacts for the majority of your day? Are you interested in wearing contacts solely for certain activities like sports? 

If you have astigmatism, presbyopia, or any other factor that will influence what type of contact lenses you wear, your optometrist will make recommendations accordingly. You can also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different disposable contact lenses, whether they’re dailies, biweeklies, or monthlies.

Eye Measurements 

Your optometrist will need to measure certain parts of your eye to make sure your contacts fit well.

Corneal Curvature and Contact Lens Diameter

Using a tool called a keratometer, the optometrist will measure the curve of your cornea. This measurement decides the base curve of your contact lens, which appears on your prescription as “BC.” Matching your corneal curvature to your contact lens is essential for both comfort and clear vision. 

If your cornea has a particularly uneven curve or other abnormalities, it may need to be “mapped” with more advanced tools that show its topography in detail. 

The optometrist will also include a contact lens diameter on your prescription. Contact lens diameters typically fall between 13 and 15 millimeters, but even a slight shift in diameter can mean a big difference in fit.

Diagram of a contact lens displaying its base curve and diameter

Pupil Size 

Your optometrist may measure your pupil as well. This measurement is especially important for multifocal and cosmetic contacts, as it helps determine how well you’ll see through the lens.

Tear Film Evaluation

Eyes prone to dryness will have more difficulty wearing contact lenses. For this reason, your optometrist may use a microscope, employ certain types of dyes, or perform tests to examine the tear film that naturally moisturizes the surface of your eye. The results of this evaluation can help determine the best contact lens material for you. 

Contact Lens Fitting

The contact lens fitting allows your optometrist to look at how a contact lens functions and fits your eye as you’re wearing it. After the above portions of the contact lens exam have been completed, they’ll have you put in a pair of trial contacts based on their recommendations. Then, they’ll look at your eyes through the slit lamp microscope to gauge for proper movement and centration. 

They’ll also test your visual acuity while you’re wearing the contacts to see if they’re performing as they should. This portion of the contact lens exam will feel similar to the visual acuity tests performed during a standard eye exam—you’ll probably read lines from a chart or screen. 

What Happens After a Contact Lens Exam? 

Once your optometrist has confirmed the fit of your contact lenses, the exam portion is over and you’ll get your contact lens prescription. 

But if you’re a first-time wearer, you may have to practice putting your contact lenses in and taking them out. The optometry office is a great place to do so, as your optometrist will guide you through the steps and have helpful tips.

You may be given a set of trial lenses to use over the course of the next several days—some prescriptions are trickier than others, and it’s important to get them right. Monitor how you feel while wearing your new contacts and get used to caring for them. At a follow-up appointment, your optometrist will take another look at your eyes while your contacts are in to make sure everything looks like it should. 

Now you’re free to order contacts online or through your optometrist whenever you need them!

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