Maybe you’ve noticed that road signs are blurry or that you otherwise don’t see as well as you used to. Maybe you’re experiencing some other problems with your eyes or vision, or perhaps you just know that getting an eye exam is recommended.
Whatever your motivation for considering your first-ever visit to the eye doctor, know that it’s a great choice to make for your health. An eye exam is about more than checking how well you can see; it’s also an opportunity to make sure your entire visual system, and even your entire body, is as healthy as possible.
When should I have an eye exam?
Recommendations for children
If you have children, your pediatrician will run tests during routine health checks to look for common eye problems like lazy eye (amblyopia), misalignment of eyes (strabismus), and focusing or depth perception problems. If the pediatrician finds anything amiss, they’ll likely refer you to an eye doctor.
Children should have an eye exam around age 3, and again before they enter school, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). Annual eye exams are important for identifying and correcting nearsightedness and other eye troubles in school children.
Recommendations for adults
The AAO recommends getting an eye exam every one to two years if you have vision problems or risk factors for certain eye diseases.
If you have no risk factors or vision problems, then plan to visit an eye doctor when you’re 40 for a comprehensive eye exam, and follow that with visits every two to four years until you’re 54. Adults who are 55 to 65 should see an eye doctor every one to three years, and those who are 65 and older should make an annual eye exam the routine. This is because we grow more at risk for certain eye diseases as we age.
How do I know which type of eye doctor I should see?
Choosing an eye doctor can seem tricky because there are two types of eye doctors: optometrists and ophthalmologists. Both prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses and are trained to diagnose and treat common eye problems. Learn more about their differences in this article.
Note that another type of eye care specialist, an optician, is qualified to fit your prescription eyeglasses and advise you on lens types and coatings. Opticians don’t conduct eye exams or diagnose and treat eye problems.
How should I prepare and what should I bring?
Similar to any other doctor visit, you should be prepared to answer questions about your medical history, and come with a list of any medications or supplements you’re currently taking. It’s also a good idea to come with questions you’d like to ask your eye doctor.
Your eye doctor will ask you questions about your vision history and want to hear about any problems. He or she will also be interested in knowing if you have a family history of eye problems and other disorders or diseases that affect eye health, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
What will happen at the exam?
Your eye doctor will run a variety of tests to ensure that your complete visual system, from brain to eyeball, is functioning as it should. He or she will also look for the early stages of eye diseases, which, when caught early, are often treatable.
After your conversation about medical and family history with the eye doctor or a technician, the exam experience typically includes some or all of these tests:
- Visual acuity test: Your eye doctor will measure your eye to see if you need glasses or contact lenses to correct your vision. During this test, your doctor will ask you to identify letters of the alphabet printed on a chart or shown on a screen. This is called a Snellen chart, and the lines of letters get progressively smaller.
- Visual field test: This tests your peripheral vision, or how well you can see from the sides without moving your eyes. You may take a manual exam and be instructed to notify your doctor when you see an object move into and disappear from your peripheral vision. Another type of visual field test involves looking at a screen with blinking lights on it, and pressing a button every time you detect a blink.
- Slit-lamp examination: This test allows your eye doctor to examine the front of your eye: your eyelids, eyelashes, cornea, iris, lens and the fluid chamber.
- Fundus photography: A digital camera will be used to take photos of the “fundus,” or back portion of the eye, so that your doctor can evaluate the health of your retina, the optic disk, and the underlying layer of blood vessels that nourish the retina. Sometimes this is called a retinal examination, ophthalmoscopy, or funduscopy.
- Dilation: Your eye doctor may use eye drops to increase the size of your pupils, which makes it easier to examine your retina.
- OCT screening: OCT stands for optical coherence tomography, which helps your eye doctor diagnose conditions of the eye and optic nerve.
- Glaucoma screening: There are two types of tests that measure the fluid pressure inside your eye. High pressure could indicate glaucoma, which is a disease that damages the optic nerve.