Sight and Hearing Tests
Everybody should have a sight test every two years, or more often if recommended by an optometrist, and there are a variety of ways you can have your hearing tested.
During your sight test the optometrist will check what you can see close up and in the distance usually using special charts of symbols or letters. This will enable them to understand whether you need glasses or a change of prescription. They will ask you about your eyesight, lifestyle, health and any previous eye problems you or family members may have had. Make sure you take a list of any medication you take, along with your glasses if you use them, or a previous glasses prescription.
For those who are unable to answer questions, there are other ways of testing sight. This is useful for young children or those with learning difficulties or special educational needs.
As well as providing an overall eye health check, a sight test might detect signs of underlying general health conditions, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. The optometrist will tell you if they find any problems with your eyes and if there is something which needs further medical checks, they will write to your doctor or the eye hospital for you. They will provide you with a written statement of your results which includes your glasses prescription if you need one. They will also tell you how often you should go for a sight test.
You qualify for a free NHS-funded sight test if:
- you’re aged under 16
- you’re aged 16, 17 or 18 and are in full-time education
- you’re aged 60 or over
- you’re registered as partially sighted (sight impaired) or blind (severely sight impaired)
- you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes or glaucoma
- you’re 40 or over, and your mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter has been diagnosed with glaucoma
- you’ve been advised by an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) that you’re at risk of glaucoma
- you’re a prisoner on leave from prison
- you’re eligible for an NHS complex lens voucher – your optometrist (optician) can advise you about your entitlement
You’re also entitled to a free NHS sight test if you:
- receive Income Support
- receive Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (not Contribution-based)
- receive Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
- receive Income-based Employment and Support Allowance
- are awarded Universal Credit
- are entitled to, or named on, a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate
- you are named on a valid NHS certificate for full help with health costs (HC2)
When you go for your sight test, tell your ophthalmic practitioner that you’re entitled to a free NHS sight test. They will give you a form called GOS1 to fill in and sign.
Mobile sight test
If you qualify for a free NHS sight test, you may be entitled to NHS-funded mobile services where the ophthalmic practitioner comes to visit you:
- at home – if you’re unable to leave home unaccompanied because of physical or mental illness or disability
- at a residential or care home – if you normally live there and you’re unable to leave the home unaccompanied because of physical or mental illness or disability
- at a day centre – if you would have difficulty getting a sight test from an optometrist at their practice because of physical or mental illness or disability, or because you have difficulty communicating your health needs without help
Call 111 to find out who provides mobile sight tests in your area.
If you don’t qualify for a free NHS sight test, you will have to pay for a private sight test. The cost of private sight tests varies, so it’s advisable to shop around.
Eyes Right Toolkit
Many older people are needlessly living with sight loss and the Eyes Right Toolkit is a quick and effective way to ensure people get the right support at the right time.
It is a simple tool designed to screen near and distant vision and can be used by anybody, but it is particularly useful in community settings. It doesn’t replace a formal examination but it can give an early indication of a sight deterioration and encourage people to book a sight test.
Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT) developed this as a result of research conducted through the Institute of Optometry, before being piloted by the RNIB and TPT in partnership with community-based voluntary organisations.
TPT provides up to 25 Eyes Right Toolkits free of charge. Click here to find out more and order your kit.
There are a variety of ways you can have your hearing tested.
Do it yourself
If you think you may have a hearing loss but are not sure you can undertake a quick hearing test over the phone or online. These may be useful to give an early indication, but are not a substitute for a full hearing test. It is not advisable to buy a hearing aid on the basis of an online test so if you still think you are having hearing difficulties please contact your GP.
Action on Hearing Loss over-the-phone hearing check – 0844 800 3838 (local rate call). This service is completely automated (you won’t have to speak to anyone) and anonymous.
Or you can do a free online hearing check at Action on Hearing Loss, the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists (BSHAA), or Boots Hearing Care.
Face to face
Some GPs and private hearing aid dispensers offer to do a short hearing test. These tests are usually free, take about 15 minutes, and can indicate if you have a hearing problem. If a short hearing test suggests you have a hearing problem, the next step is to have a full hearing assessment.
A full hearing test appointment lasts up to an hour, and can be carried out by your GP surgery, hospital clinic, or by a private hearing aid dispenser. Most GPs don’t have the equipment to do a full hearing test in the surgery, but they can examine your ears to check for obvious problems, like a build-up of earwax, and treat the cause if necessary.
Your GP can also give you a referral to an NHS hospital specialist to have your ears and hearing thoroughly checked and an NHS hearing aid fitted.
At the NHS hospital clinic
In the clinic, you’ll be seen by an audiologist (and possibly by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor first, if your GP has requested it). Before the audiologist tests your hearing, you will be asked some questions about your hearing and they will look in your ears. You’ll then have a hearing test lasting about 20 minutes.
During the hearing test, you’ll sit in a soundproof booth or room with headphones on while the audiologist presents a series of sounds. When you hear a sound, you signal to the audiologist, normally by pressing a button or raising your hand.
You might choose to go directly to a private hearing aid dispenser instead of having your hearing tested on the NHS. Just as with the NHS route, a hearing aid dispenser will assess you with a full hearing test lasting up to an hour before deciding if you would benefit from wearing hearing aids. You don’t need a referral from your GP.
Some local hearing aid dispensers offer free testing, so it’s worth asking before you make an appointment.
The Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) keeps a list of qualified private hearing aid dispensers. You can use the HCPC’s online register to check if the hearing aid dispenser you’re about to use is registered.
If you are housebound, or have difficulty getting to the audiology department, discuss this with your GP. They can write to the NHS audiology department and request for an audiologist to come to your home if needed.
If you get your hearing aid privately you can find a hearing aid dispenser who will do a home visit through the BSHAA website. Some offer free home testing, so ask before you make an appointment.