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So, you’ve noticed recently that your vision just isn’t what it used to be. Either you’re holding the book near enough to your face to keep banging your nose on it, or you’re stretching your arm out in the vain attempt to find a distance where you can read the words without dislocating a shoulder. Maybe you noticed it when you were driving, and couldn’t quite read the road sign in time to take the turn you wanted. Maybe you were in the classroom, struggling to read what the teacher was writing, only realising something was wrong when, having finished doing the exercises on page 89, you glanced at your neighbour’s work to discover everyone else was doing the ones on page 39.

It’s frustrating, embarrassing and sometimes downright unfair, especially when your great-aunt Mildred is 97 and can still spot the smallest piece of fluff on your carpet the moment she walks through the door. But there’s no avoiding it. The best thing you can do at this point is to take the bull by its metaphorical horns, and make an appointment with an optician.

Nowadays, the sheer number of opticians on the high street is enough to overwhelm anyone. Specsavers, Vision Express, Dollond & Aitchison… even companies like Boots and Tesco now provide optical services both online and in selected stores. What’s more, they’re all constantly advertising fantastic offers to buy 18 pairs of glasses and get a cow free, in the hope of enticing you in. They all have experienced staff, fully qualified opticians and an astounding range of frames and lenses to choose from. They all give a good quality service, and their offers (minus the cow) are generally all quite similar in price and products. So how are you expected to choose which one is the best one for you?

First of all, its worth explaining what service you can expect to get. For this, it is worth thinking of an optician in the same terms as a doctor. You register at your preferred branch (it is advisable to keep it quite close to home as, like your doctor, you will tend to see an optician fairly regularly). You are then booked in for an eye test (sometimes called a sight test), and are assigned to a specific optician, who you won’t necessarily see every time you have an appointment, but who will be the your main point of reference for any major decisions regarding your vision.

An eye test generally takes around half an hour of your time and will determine two things: 1) whether you do in fact need glasses (or contact lenses, if you so choose) and 2) if you do, whether you need them to correct long-sightedness (hyperopia: where you can see distance fine but your book is always precariously close to your nose) or short-sightedness (myopia: where reading is fine but road signs and blackboards are a little trickier) - or both, if you have trouble with all of the above (presbyopia).

Eye test prices vary depending on where you go. Vision Express offer a 50% reduction on the cost of their tests when you book online; Specsavers offer NHS eye tests FREE in all their stores.

Once your eye test is complete, they will then give you a shorter test (around 20 minutes) to determine the exact strength each lens needs to be in order to correct your vision. This test can happen on the same day, or you might need to book a further appointment. Strength levels for lenses begin at 0 (no correction needed) and increase by 0.25 increments. It is highly likely that each eye will require a different strength as, like with every other part of our body that comes in a pair, the two are not identical.

Once you’ve had an eye test, you can choose how you want to go about correcting your vision. The two most common options are to either wear glasses or contact lenses, depending on what is best suited to your lifestyle and, of course, your visual needs. For more information see our advice on glasses and contact lenses*.

You will also have to go back every 2 years to have another eye test. This is standard procedure as most people’s eyes change and develop as they grow older, and regular eye tests allow your optician to make sure you always have the right prescription and therefore perfect vision.

So now you have an idea of what to expect, it’s down to you to choose which opticians you think is best for your individual needs, and at the end of the day, the only real way to know is to go into the store. Get a feel for the products and staff. Going to the opticians shouldn’t be an intimidating experience and you’ll be visiting a lot over the years so, like you have a favourite chair in your best friend’s sitting room, make sure you have a favourite store to help you with your visual needs.