Home SEE WELL What to Expect at a Routine Eye Exam

What to Expect at a Routine Eye Exam

by Louise Wood

You’ve booked your first eye examination…

Do you need to prepare? Will it hurt? How long will it take? These are all reasonable questions I get asked regularly, so allow me to help you understand what to expect at a routine eye exam.

Why are routine eye examinations so important?

Regular eye exams are essential to maintain healthy eyes and keep your prescription up-to-date. A comprehensive eye examination is performed by your optometrist, who will use a variety of tests and procedures. Some of the tests are simple, like reading an eye chart. More complex investigations are used to check the health of your eyes.

Even if you don’t need eyeglasses, it’s wise to have eye exams regularly to ensure your eyes are healthy.

How do you prepare for your eye examination?

  • If you take any medications, be prepared to list them for your eye doctor.
  • Ask family members about any vision issues they have. Your eye doctor will want to know about them.
  • If you already wear eyeglasses or contact lenses, bring them with you. If you have a recent prescription from a different optometrist, bring it too.
  • Sometimes your optometrist will use eye drops to enlarge your pupils. This will make you sensitive to light for a couple of hours after your eye examination. It is a good idea to bring your sunglasses for the ride home.
  • If you have any questions you want to ask your optometrist, you might want to write them down so you don’t forget.

What tests can you expect?

Routine eye examinations are straightforward, fast, and painless. Your eye examination should take about half an hour, maybe more.

routine eye exam

You’ll begin with a chat

Your optometrist will ask you some questions. He or she needs to understand if you are having any issues with your eyes. Do you sometimes have trouble seeing? When? Are your eyes sore? Do you take medications? Does anyone in your family have vision issues?

The goal is to form a detailed picture of any visual issues or risk factors. Armed with this information, he or she can target a treatment plan for your visual needs.

Vision testing

Most patients coming in for an eye examination want to improve their vision. Of course, clear vision is a must-have for any busy life. Your optometrist will test your vision by focusing on several key elements.

Refractive error—This is done by presenting eye charts and focusing on them with special lenses. Sometimes patients feel a bit confused by the process. Hang in there and have faith. You’re not being tricked and you can’t fail. Your responses will make sense to your optometrist.

Vision perception—This involves measuring your color vision, depth perception, visual tracking skills, and eye movements.

  • Blurry distance or reading vision
    Are you getting headaches? Sore eyes? Struggling to see? Your optometrist will use your refraction, trial lenses, and sometimes eye exercises to help with these issues.
  • Seeing double
    This is often caused by your eye muscles. Usually, your eyes move together but sometimes one eye can lag behind the other. This will leave you seeing two images. There are special exercises and lenses to address double vision.
  • Pupil reactions
    Your optometrist will watch how your pupils adjust to light and objects close to you. Your response to light is a natural function of the eye and helps you see clearly.

Vision is a complex human sense where your eyes and brain must work together. After getting new prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses, you may not feel comfortable with them. Relax. Your optometrist can make small adjustments to help you adapt.

Eye health testing

Maintaining the health of your eyes is as important as optimizing your vision. Eye health is all about prevention. If a disease can be detected before any damage is done, it’s likely vision loss can be prevented. Around 80 percent of blindness is preventable.

Some eye diseases, which may be called “silent” vision loss, rob you of clear vision without you noticing. Diseases that can be detected during your examination include:

  • Infection
  • ‘Lazy’ eye or a ‘squint’
  • Cataract
  • Diabetic eye disease
  • Glaucoma
  • Macular degeneration
  • Keratoconus

Early detection can be achieved through regular eye exams using the following tests:

Slit-lamp examination—Your optometrist will use a slit lamp, a powerful microscope with two eyepieces (biomicroscope) to look at your eyes under high magnification. You will see a vertical bar of light scanning your eye. They will also hold a lens in front of your eye for a more detailed view. This does not hurt or harm your eyes but gives your optometrist a great view of your eye and its internal health.

Surface structures of your eye—Also, the whites of your eyes and the tissue under your eyelids, which could be swollen or infected, are inspected with the slit-lamp examination.

Eye pressure—The pressure of the fluid in your eyes will be measured using a blue light. The process is painless and does not harm your eyes. Some optometrists use a different method by putting a puff of air into your eyes. The process won’t hurt or harm you, but many patients don’t like it.

Dilation—At this stage, your optometrist may put in some eye drops to enlarge your pupils to get a better view of the structures inside your eye.

In some cases, your optometrist will carry out additional tests to confirm their findings. These include scans, photographs, or testing your peripheral vision. All of these tests are safe and painless.

General health issues can be spotted via eye exams

The popular saying, “eyes are the window to your soul,” rings true when you have a routine eye examination. Your optometrist may detect signs of a number of general health issues by examing your eyes:

  • Vascular diseases including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and diabetes
  • Neurological issues including multiple sclerosis and nerve damage
  • Inflammatory disease including arthritis, Graves’ disease, and autoimmune disorders
  • Cancers affecting your eyes 

When should you have your eyes examined?

Your optometrist will determine an appropriate schedule for your eye exams. The frequency will depend on the health of your eyes. After you turn 40, you may need to be seen annually. If you’re under 40, you’re likely to be told exams every other year will suffice. However, if you wear contact lenses you will need to be seen yearly or more regularly.

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