What to expect during your eye exam.

Comprehensive eye exams with a licensed specialist are essential to your vision and eye health.

During an eye exam, your optometrist or ophthalmologist will use advanced tools and equipment to monitor your eye health and maximize your vision.

Providers can detect and diagnose serious eye disorders, prescribe corrective lenses and other treatments, and offer a range of specialized care.

Once you’ve made your appointment, it’s time to prepare.

Here’s what to expect.

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Preparing For An Eye Exam

As you’re preparing for your comprehensive eye exam, there are a few things to remember.

First, you’ll want to bring a summary of your medical history and your family’s medical history, alongside any insurance information and a list of medications you’re taking.

Your doctor will likely chat with you prior to your tests about health history, concerns, and any eye-related symptoms you’re experiencing.

Consider writing a list of questions for your doctor prior to your appointment, too, and bring any corrective lenses you’re wearing, including contacts and/or glasses. If you are seeing a new doctor, bringing your old records can be helpful.

Because your eyes may be dilated during your exam to check retinal health, your vision may be sensitive to light or blurred for a few hours afterward. Bring along a pair of sunglasses to help reduce discomfort, and consider asking a family member or friend to drive you to and from your appointment.

Avoid excessive eye strain or fatigue prior to your exam. Try to get plenty of rest the night before your exam. If your eyes are dry from a poor night’s sleep, this can affect your exam results. If you are experiencing consistent dry eyes, your eye care provider can help you treat this prior to finalizing any glasses or contacts prescription to give you the best eye comfort and vision.

What Diseases Can Be Detected During An Eye Exam?

Doctors can identify early warning signs and symptoms of many diseases and eye abnormalities with a comprehensive eye exam, according to the American Optometric Association.

These include:

  • Astigmatism.
  • Nearsightedness or farsightedness.
  • Presbyopia (age-related near blur).
  • Blepharitis, or eyelid inflammation.
  • Cataracts.
  • Detached retina.
  • Diabetic retinopathy.
  • Dry eye disease.
  • Eye injury.
  • Glaucoma.
  • Macular degeneration.
  • Strabismus and amblyopia (crossed eyes and lazy eye, respectively).
  • Tumors and/or cancer in the eye.

Some vision problems or eye changes can also be a sign of:

  • Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus and multiple sclerosis.
  • Aneurysm.
  • Stroke.
  • Diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Heart disease.
  • Lupus.
  • Lyme Disease.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Some sexually transmitted infections.
  • Thyroid disease.
  • Vitamin A deficiency.

What Happens During An Eye Exam?

Once you’ve discussed your concerns and medical history with your eye doctor, your provider will likely perform a variety of tests.

They will then provide early results and help you explore further treatment options, if necessary.

Common eye exam tests may include:

  • Visual acuity tests: These tests help determine corrective eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions by evaluating vision sharpness. Your provider will ask you to read letters from an eye chart from a distance, covering one eye at a time. They may have you read letters through a device called a phoropter, equipped with various lenses to reveal nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. Your provider may also conduct a visual field test to look at your peripheral, or side, vision. Your doctor may hold up fingers or an object, or use a computer program, to test how much you can see at the edges of your vision.
  • Corneal topography tests: Often used to measure and map the curve of your cornea, or the clear outer layer in the front of the eye, this brief photography technique tests for astigmatism and other corneal diseases as you look at an object while a computer takes numerous measurements. This test is often used to properly fit contact lenses.
  • Color vision: To test for color deficiency, your doctor may display a collection of images with numbers or letters tucked into different colored dots to help determine if you can spot the numbers.
  • Tonometry: To detect pressure problems inside the eye, which can be a sign of glaucoma, your doctor will use an instrument called a tonometer to blow a small puff of air on the cornea. Another test, called a pachymeter, measures the thickness of your cornea.
  • Slit-lamp exam: Also known as a biomicroscopy, a slit-lamp exam allows your eye doctor to examine the various parts of your eye through a specialized magnifying microscope to help identify signs of eye disease or abnormalities. After dilating your pupils, your provider will ask you to rest your chin and forehead on the equipment while they examine your eyes using this table-mounted microscope. The dilation allows for better views into the inside of the eye.
  • Ophthalmoscopy: Your provider will usually use eye drops to dilate your pupil and, once fully dilated, will use high-powered lenses and a headlamp to view the retina more thoroughly. This can help diagnose diseases including high blood pressure and diabetes.

How Often Should I Get An Eye Exam?

Healthy adults under 65 years old without certain risk factors should have a comprehensive eye exam every 1-2 years, or as recommended by a health professional.

This includes those who don’t wear corrective lenses.

An American Optometric Association survey in 2020 found that as many as 16 million Americans have undiagnosed and untreated vision impairments, and only 54% had regular comprehensive eye exams.

Those with a higher risk of eye disease or vision impairments may need to be checked more frequently.

You may be considered high risk if you:

  • Are over 65 years old.
  • Are overweight or have obesity.
  • Have a personal or family history of eye disease.
  • Have a condition that can cause eye problems, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis or a history of stroke, and stroke.
  • Have experienced an eye injury, surgery, or damage.
  • Wear glasses or contact lenses.
  • Are prescribed drugs with visual side effects.

The UPMC Vision Institute offers everything from comprehensive eye exams to specialized eye care.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Vision Institute

The UPMC Vision Institute is a national leader in the treatment of eye diseases and disorders. We seek to improve and restore your vision to help your quality of life, diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in both children and adults. Our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We also offer routine eye screenings and have full-scale optical shops. Find an eye expert close to you.