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Is looking after your eye health, getting overlooked?

04 Mar 2021

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Vision is one of our most important senses - and the best way to protect and keep your eyes healthy is by having regular eye exams. More than one million eye tests are carried out in New Zealand every year, with around 60% of Kiwis needing prescription glasses or contact lenses as a result.

Not only do routine eye exams evaluate any changes to your vision, they can also detect eye diseases and other health issues that impact your general wellbeing (such as high blood pressure or diabetes) and help identify problems early - so that any potential issues can be addressed at their most treatable stage.

What does it cost to maintain good eye health in New Zealand

The cost of staying on top of your eye health can vary significantly from person to person and can depend on where you go, but the table below gives you an idea of the average costs, if you need to explore treatment for your eyes:

  • Eye exam – $60 - $99
  • Glasses (lenses and frames) – between $100 - $500+ if you’re looking at designer frames
  • Cataract surgery $3,200-$5,000 – cataracts cause the lens of your eye to become cloudy, impacting your sight. This procedure, in most cases, involves replacing the blurred lens with a clear, artificial lens.
  • Glaucoma surgery $5,000,$7,500 – caused by pressure building inside your eyes, which can damage the optic nerve. If medication isn’t effective, you may be advised to either get laser treatment or incisional surgery depending on the severity.
  • Diabetic Retinopathy $10,000 - $15,000 – caused by damage to the retina from diabetes, it is the most common causes of blindness in New Zealand. Treatment options include varying degrees of laser surgery, depending on how advanced the condition is.
  • Macular Degeneration treatment $1,500-$2,500 – if untreated, it can cause a gradual loss of vison, usually within two years. While there is no cure, there are medications and surgeries available to stabilise the condition.

These numbers are indicative and prices vary between regions and opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologist practices.

Where do I go and who should I see?

There are three types of eye specialists. While there is some crossover between them, who you decide to see could be based on your personal preference or the matter you’re seeking help for.

Optician – opticians fill prescriptions (glasses and contact lenses) and can assemble, fit and adjust glasses. They aren’t permitted to provide eye exams, but are qualified to find you the perfect frames and fit!

Optometrist – optometrists can complete full eye exams, including checking for changes in vision and eye health. They can provide corrective lenses, diagnose common eye diseases and give treatment options. If you need surgery or have a complex eye issue, they’ll refer you to an ophthalmologist,

Ophthalmologist – ophthalmologists are specialist eye doctors who provide full eye care, including eye exams. They do prescribe corrective lenses, but are also able to diagnose and treat complex eye diseases and perform eye surgery.

Why is it important to get regular eye checks and when should I get them?

Many serious eye diseases can creep up on you, and by the time you experience any symptoms it can often be too late to reverse them. According to the World Health Organisation, 75% of blindness in the world is preventable with early intervention. This is why regular eye examinations are so critical and can be the difference between partial or even total vision loss.

There are many factors to consider when determining how frequently you should have your eyes tested, including your age, general health and family history of illness (such as glaucoma, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases), but the below offers a general guideline.

Toddlers – The Ministry of Health funds free vision checks as part of its B4 School Check for kids around the age of four, but it’s recommended that a child gets their first full eye exam at the optometrist at the age of three. Uncorrected vision can cause learning difficulties, so it’s best to catch any issues early on.

Children & Teens – children will have their distance vision assessed at school when they are 11 or 12, but if you have any concerns, it’s important they get their eyes checked by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. If there are no prior issues with your child’s vision, have them assessed every one to two years. It’s common to start needing prescription eyewear as a teen, as near-sightedness (myopia) can often develop around this age.

Adults – The need for regular eye exams increases as you get older (especially over the age of 40 as you become more at risk of eye issues), but if you’re otherwise healthy and don’t have any vision issues or symptoms, have your eyes routinely checked as follows:

  • 20s & 30s: every five to 10 years
  • 40 to 54: every two to four years
  • 55 to 64: every one to three years
  • 65 plus: every one to two years

During pregnancy – changes in hormone levels can sometimes impact vision, causing dry eyes, blurring, spots or floaters. While these symptoms will likely go away after childbirth, it’s important to visit your GP or eye doctor if you’re concerned or symptoms continue.

What are my options?

Whether you have 20/20 vision or always wear glasses or contact lenses, it’s important to stay on top of your eye health to monitor any changes and catch any potential issues before they get out of hand.

Health insurance that includes optical cover is an easy and affordable way to save on regular eye exams and prescription glasses or contacts. With Everyday cover from nib health insurance, you could claim up to 80% back on your optical examinations, glasses and contact lenses, up to $500 per year*. Premium Everyday cover starts from under $17 a week for adults and includes a range of Everyday health benefits.

For a personalised quote, visit the nib Everyday health cover page here.

Some optometrists also offer free eye examinations or subscriptions for regular check-ups to help with the upfront costs. With nib’s Everyday policy you can get 25% off a pair of glasses and an advanced 3D eye scan at Specsavers for free too. Most optical retailers also frequently offer deals on frames, lenses and contacts (including reduced repeat prescriptions), so take advantage and shop around!

*Co-payment percentage of 80% and benefit limit of $500 available on nib Premium Everyday cover. 6-month waiting period applies on all optical benefits. Policy terms and benefit limits apply. For full details visit the nib Everyday cover page here.