What to Expect During a Routine Eye Exam

Your eye and vision health is an important part of your overall wellbeing. That is why it is suggested to schedule frequent routine comprehensive eye examinations. While the thought of an eye exam may seem nerve-wracking at first, simply knowing what you can expect during your next checkup can help you feel more at ease. 

How often should you get an eye exam? 

Generally, most adults and children should visit an eye doctor every 1 to 2 years to check their vision. However, there are a few reasons why someone might need more frequent eye exams. These can include: 

  • Age (adults over 60) 
  • Obesity 
  • History of eye surgery 
  • History of stroke(s) with resulting eye damage 
  • Family history of eye disease 
  • Poor vision that results in the need to wear eyeglasses or contact lenses1 

How should you prepare for your eye exam?  

Before heading to your eye exam, be prepared to give the list of medications you may currently be taking as well as your health and family’s health history. Remember to bring your eyeglasses and/or contact lenses along with your last prescription, if applicable. Finally, remember to bring a pair of sunglasses. The eye doctor might use eye drops to dilate your pupils which will make your eyes sensitive to light after your examination. 

How long is a comprehensive eye examination? 

You should plan on being at the eye doctor for about one to one and a half hours. There are a number of vision screening tests your doctor will conduct which may make your appointment longer depending on your circumstances. 

What usually happens during an eye exam? 

After going over your current medications and health history, your provider will perform a series of vision screening tests. The tests during an eye exam not only help determine how well you can read letters on a chart from a distance, but also assess your peripheral vision, your ability to see colors, and will dilate your pupils to get a clearer view of your cornea, lens, optic nerve, retina, and the surrounding blood vessels1

Standard tests during an eye exam include: 

  • Visual Acuity: This classic eye test measures how clearly you can see. Your provider asks you to read letters on an eye chart (a Snellen chart) from a distance. Each eye is tested separately. 
  • Visual Refraction: This test helps determine if you need vision correction. Typically, you look through a phoropter (the instrument with a group of lenses on each side) at an eye chart. Your provider will change lenses and ask if things look clear or blurry. 
  • Visual Field: This test measures your peripheral (side) vision. Your provider will hold up an object and gradually move it from one side of your face to another. 
  • Slit-lamp Exam: After dilating your pupils with special eyedrops, your provider will examine your eyes using a microscope (slit lamp) mounted to a table. You will rest your chin and forehead on the equipment. 
  • Tonometry: This test assesses the fluid pressure inside your eye (intraocular pressure). A device called a tonometer injects a puff of air into your eye to test the pressure. Tonometry helps detect glaucoma 
  • Color Vision Test: To check for color blindness, your provider will show you a series of images with colored dots. Hidden among the dots are numbers in different colors. People with a color deficiency may not be able to see the numbers. 
  • Ophthalmoscopy: Also called a fundoscopy, this exam looks at the back of your eye (fundus). Your eye doctor shines a bright light into your eye to screen your retina, optic disc and blood vessels for eye diseases1

Do you really need an eye exam? 

Don’t overlook the importance of scheduling your routine eye exams, even if your vision is good. There are many non-eye related conditions that can affect the eyes but can easily go unnoticed if there are no obvious outward signs or symptoms. Fortunately, a comprehensive eye exam can help to detect a number of these diseases, even without symptoms, allowing for possible detection before damage has set in. These include conditions such as: diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arterial disease, lupus, and multiple sclerosis1.

Visit some of our other articles on the NVA Blog to read more about the different medical conditions an eye examination can help detect.


1: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/10738-eye-exam-what-to-expect

2: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/glaucoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20372839#dialogId24866630