Everything You Want to Know About Eye Exams

Reviewed by: David Schanzlin, MD

Vision Tips & Prevention Vision Tips & Prevention

Have you ever wondered how often to get an eye exam? Do you need an eye exam even if you don’t wear glasses or contacts? Would you like to know what will happen in your eye exam before you head to the eye doctor’s office? These are all common questions about eye exams! We will answer many of the frequently asked questions about eye exams in order to help you take care of your vision and eye health.

What is an Eye Exam?

A comprehensive eye exam is more than just a vision screening. An eye exam performed by a qualified eye doctor will involve a series of tests to evaluate your vision, your ocular health, and check for eye diseases. A dilated eye exam, in which special eye drops are used to make your pupil larger, allows your eye doctor to examine your retina and optic nerve. Eye exams are typically painless and take between 30 and 60 minutes to complete. Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Get a Dilated Eye Exam National Eye Institute Go to Source 1

Why Should I Have an Eye Exam if My Vision is Fine?

Some ocular diseases and eye conditions need to be diagnosed and treated early in order to prevent vision loss or other complications. However, many eye diseases do not have any symptoms in the early stages, so a dilated eye exam is the only way to detect them. Additionally, a comprehensive eye exam can sometimes detect overall health issues, such as diabetes, hypertension, or certain types of cancer. Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Your Eyes Could Be the Windows to Your Health American Academy of Ophthalmology Go to Source 2

When to Have Eye Exams

Your optimal eye exam frequency may vary depending on your eye health and vision. These are general recommendations based on age and medical history, but you should always follow the recommendation of your eye doctor.

Eye Exams for Babies and Children

Infants and toddlers should be screened by their pediatrician or family doctor in infancy and again before one year of age if there are no symptoms of eye disease or vision problems. At around 3 years of age, children should have a visual acuity test from an eye care professional or a trained family doctor. School-aged children will typically receive adequate vision screening at school. Babies, toddlers, children, or adolescents who exhibit any signs of vision issues or eye problems, or who have a family history of eye disease, should be evaluated by a pediatric ophthalmologist on a regular basis. Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Eye Screening for Children American Academy of Ophthalmology Go to Source 3

Eye Exams for Adults

  • 20’s through 30’s with no vision issues or risk factors: Every 5 to 10 years
  • 40 to 60 years old with no vision issues or risk factors: Everyone should have a baseline eye exam at age 40, then every 1 to 4 years depending on your health and vision.
  • Over age 60: Every 1 to 2 years.
  • Any Age: Schedule an eye exam if you experience any changes in vision or have any concerns about your eye health. Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Eye exam Mayo Clinic Go to Source 4

Adults Need a Dilated Eye Exam Every 1 to 2 Years if:

  • You Have Diabetes
  • You Have High Blood Pressure
  • You Wear Prescription Glasses or Contacts
  • You Are African American and over age 40
  • You Have a Family History of Eye Diseases or Vision Loss Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Get a Dilated Eye Exam & Eye exam National Eye Institute & Mayo Clinic Go to Source 1,4

Who Conducts Eye Exams?

An eye exam may be conducted by an ophthalmologist or an optometrist. There are three types of eye care professionals that you will typically encounter: Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Find an Eye Doctor National Eye Institue Go to Source 5

  • Ophthalmologists: These medical doctors (MD) may provide general eye care, and they often specialize in providing complex care for specific eye diseases or areas of vision care. In addition to performing exams and prescribing glasses or contact lenses, ophthalmologists also perform eye surgery.
  • Optometrists: For regular eye exams, many patients will see an optometrist (OD). Doctors of optometry can perform comprehensive eye exams and prescribe glasses or contacts. Your optometrist may refer you to an ophthalmologist if you are diagnosed with an eye disease or if have any surgical needs.
  • Opticians: Your eye doctor may have an optician working in their office, but opticians do not perform eye exams. They are trained to help you select glasses to fill your prescription from an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

How to Prepare an Eye Exam

There are a few things you can do to prepare for your eye exam and make sure you get the most out of the experience: Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Eye exam Mayo Clinic Go to Source 4

  • Although you can request an exam without dilation, a dilated exam is the best way to screen for eye diseases. Bring UV protective sunglasses and consider bringing someone to drive you home.
  • Bring your prescription glasses and/or contact lenses.
  • Expect to be asked about your family history of eye disease.
  • Bring a list of all medications you are currently taking.
  • Write down any questions you want to remember to ask your eye doctor.

What to Expect at Your Eye Exam

  • Your eye exam may vary, but in general you can expect the following: Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Get a Dilated Eye Exam & Eye exam National Eye Institute & Mayo Clinic Go to Source 1,4
  • Your eye doctor may ask you to fill out patient paperwork before your appointment.
  • You will be asked about your overall health, medical history, and any vision issues.
  • Your visual acuity will be tested, typically with an eye chart and also with a machine that you will look into called a phoroptor.
  • Your eye doctor will evaluate your eye movement by asking you to follow objects with your eyes.
  • If you are having a dilated eye exam, the eye doctor will administer dilating eye drops. Once your pupils are enlarged, the eye doctor will look into your eyes with a light to examine your retina and optic nerve. Your vision will be blurry after a dilated eye exam for at least 4 hours.
  • Your eye pressure will be tested to see if you may have glaucoma. There are two methods, one which uses numbing eye drops to enable your eye doctor to touch your cornea with a special device (this test is called applanation tonometry) and one that directs a painless puff of air toward your eye to measure pressure (this test is called noncontact tonometry).

Your Eye Exam Results

Normal results from an eye exam include 20/20 vision, healthy-looking eye structures, and no detection of eye diseases or disorders. Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Eye exam Mayo Clinic Go to Source 4 Your eye doctor will give you a prescription for corrective lenses and discuss your vision correction options if you are diagnosed with myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), astigmatism (distorted vision), or presbyopia (age-related near vision loss). If you have risk factors for eye diseases, such as glaucoma or macular degeneration, then your eye doctor may perform additional tests or recommend a follow-up appointment.

Trusetd Source Checkbox  Sources

1 National Eye Institute. Get a Dilated Eye Exam. Available at: https://nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/healthy-vision/get-dilated-eye-exam Accessed October 15, 2019.
2 American Academy of Ophthalmology. Your Eyes Could Be the Windows to Your Health. Available at: https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/diagnosing-systemic-diseases-eye-exams. Accessed October 15, 2019.
3 American Academy of Ophthalmology. Eye Screening for Children. Available at: https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/children-eye-screening. Accessed October 15, 2019.
4 Mayo Clinic. Eye exam. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/eye-exam/about/pac-20384655 Accessed October 15, 2019.
5 National Eye Institute. Finding an Eye Doctor. Available at: https://nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/healthy-vision/finding-eye-doctor Accessed October 16, 2019.

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