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Keep your eye on the bottom line when opticians offer free sight tests which end in a bill

THE nights might be getting darker earlier but that may not be the reason you can't see as well as you used to.

Good eye health is important especially as you get older, and it's vital to have regular eye tests to check not just your sight, but other problems, like cataracts, which can often be the symptom of a lurking medical condition.

Research by the National Consumer Agency shows that the average price for a standard eye examination is €32, but there are lots of offers around which can bring that cost down.

First of all, see if you qualify for a free examination.

Medical card holders and those with sufficient PRSI payments to qualify (see www.welfare.ie) get free eye tests. Those required for driving licence purposes (average cost €22 -- mandatory for over 70s) aren't covered, but if you need contact lenses for medical reasons, there is a contribution toward them.

Some opticians offer free sight tests to all customers, while the highest recorded price was €60 in Dublin 2, which is some difference. If you need more complex tests, these are usually charged for separately.

On average, only 62pc of opticians clearly display prices so it's definitely worth shopping around before you commit.

Our table shows what we found when we did just that -- and do ask if 'free' really means 'free'.

We were a little taken aback by Optical Express's giant sign which even the most short-sighted couldn't miss, proclaiming free eye tests.

But when we enquired in-store, we found the test cost €25 which was redeemable against glasses.

But if you don't need any, then you pay. The message? It pays to keep your eyes open.

I undertook eye tests in Mairead O Leary and SpecSavers, both in Dublin.

I found them both highly professional, fully versed in eye care and both were able to diagnose a previous procedure I had done on my eyes, and a current condition, without prompting.

They gave good advice, were happy to answer questions and provided me with a prescription, even though I said I didn't wish to go ahead with glasses.