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Eye Exam

What is an eye exam?

An eye exam is the way an optometrist or ophthalmologist tests your vision and eye health. Your eye care provider checks to see if you need glasses or contact lenses. The provider also tests the health of your eyes to make sure that you do not have any eye diseases.

When should I have an eye exam?

Even if you do not wear glasses you should have an eye exam regularly. If you don’t have symptoms, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that you have an eye exam:

  • At least once during your 20s, and twice during your 30s.
  • Every 2 to 4 years if you are age 41 to 64.
  • Every 1 to 2 years if you are age 65 or older.

Any child who fails a school vision screening test should also have a complete eye exam.

You may need to see your eye care provider more often if you have certain eye problems, diseases, or risk factors. For example:

  • If you have type 2 diabetes, see your eye care provider annually starting the year that you are diagnosed.
  • If you have type 1 diabetes, annual eye checkups should start within 5 years of diagnosis if you are under 30 and as soon as you are diagnosed if you are over 30.
  • If you have diabetes and are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, have an eye exam before you become pregnant and within the first 3 months of pregnancy.
  • If you have risk factors for glaucoma, such as African American descent or a family history of the disease, see your provider every 2 years between age 30 and 64 years. Get an exam every year at age 65 and older.
  • If you take hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) for rheumatoid arthritis. You should have an eye exam every 12 months while taking this medicine. In very rare cases, the medicine can cause a change in the retina. If you notice any change in your vision while you are taking this medicine, contact your eye care provider.

You should also see your eye care provider if you have:

  • blurry vision or eyestrain
  • eye pain
  • red eyes
  • blind spots
  • headaches
  • any other eye problem

How do I prepare for an eye exam?

If you wear glasses or contact lenses, be sure to take them with you. Be prepared to answer questions about your vision and health history. Your eye care provider will want to know if you are having any vision problems. Your job has a big effect on your vision, so your provider will want to know if you do a lot of computer work or drive a lot, for example. The provider will also want to know if you have any general health problems and what medicines you are taking. Keep an updated list of all of your medicines, including eyedrops, for your provider. Make a list of questions you have for the provider and take the list with you to the exam.

What happens during an eye exam?

Your eye care provider will ask you if you are having any problems with your eyes. If you already wear glasses or contact lenses, your provider will ask when you wear them and how long you wear them. If you wear contact lenses, your provider will also ask what solutions you use to clean them. Next, the provider will check to see if you are near-sighted, far-sighted, have astigmatism, or need reading glasses.

  • You will read an eye chart to test your vision.
  • You will then look through an instrument while the provider places lenses in front of your eyes to check your prescription for glasses or contact lenses. The provider will also use this instrument to test your reading vision, focusing power, and how well your eyes work together.
  • Your eye care provider may measure the shape of your eye, especially if you wear contact lenses.
  • Your eye care provider will test your peripheral vision.

Next your provider will check your eye health. The provider uses a special type of microscope called a slit lamp to carefully check the front parts of the eye. Problems like cataracts or infection can be seen with the slit lamp. The provider will measure the fluid pressure in your eyes to test for glaucoma.

Your eye care provider may use eyedrops that dilate your pupils. The eyedrops open up the pupils so that the provider can see your retina and optic nerve at the back of your eye. The provider checks for serious problems like retinal detachment, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. Signs of health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure can also be seen in the eyes.

Finally, your eye care provider will prescribe glasses or contact lenses if you need them. If any eye health problems are found, your provider will prescribe medicine or more tests.

What happens after the eye exam?

If the provider used eyedrops to dilate your pupils, your eyes may stay dilated for 4 to 6 hours. This may make your near vision a little blurry and you may be sensitive to light for a few hours. If your provider prescribed glasses for you, you can select frames and order your new glasses. If you do not need glasses for distance, but you do need glasses for reading, your provider may recommend nonprescription reading glasses. Ask what power or strength you should choose. If you are getting contact lenses, you may need to see your provider again to have them properly fitted to your eye.

What are the benefits of an eye exam?

If your provider finds signs of an eye disease, you can get treatment before the eye disease becomes a problem. This may prevent a permanent loss of vision.

When should I call my eye care provider?

Call right away if you have:

  • loss of vision
  • pain in or around your eyes
  • flashing lights or objects floating in your vision
  • red eyes with crusty eyelashes or yellow mucus in the corner of your eye
  • any other problems with your eyes or eyelids
Reviewed for medical accuracy by faculty at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. Web site:
Written by George Mamalis, OD, for RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-06-18
Last reviewed: 2010-10-18
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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