A regular eye exam is an important part of taking care of your eyes. An eye exam is more than a vision screening, which children get at school and at their checkups.
Professionals Who Do Eye Care
Different types of professionals may be involved in caring for your eyes. It is important to know what each one does and the expertise each one has.
- Ophthalmologist: A medical or osteopathic doctor (MD or DO) who specializes in eyes. Like other doctors, these doctors are licensed to practice medicine and do surgery. They have expertise in treating all types of problems with the eyes.
- Optometrist: An optometrist is not a medical doctor but is a healthcare provider trained in optometry school. An optometrist is also called a doctor of optometry (OD). Optometrists do regular eye exams and basic care for the eyes. The optometrist can help you with glasses or contact lenses, but may refer you to an ophthalmologist for other problems.
- Optician. An optician helps you to choose glasses and makes sure they fit you. An optician is not a healthcare provider.
When to Get an Eye Exam
How often you get an eye exam depends on several factors, including your age and health status. Children should have a vision screening every year, but may not need a full eye exam unless the child’s doctor recommends it.
If you are having trouble with your eyes or vision, make an appointment for an eye exam right away. Otherwise, adults between the ages of 20 and 64 with no vision problems should get a full eye exam every 2–4 years. Adults with vision problems or risk factors may need to go more often. African American adults have an increased risk of glaucoma and may need to go for eye exams every 1–2 years. After age 65, all adults should get a full eye exam every 1–2 years.
Tests Included in the Eye Exam
An eye exam includes several tests to make sure your eyes are healthy:
- Vision exam. In this exam, the doctor will check how well you can see at different distances (visual acuity). The eye doctor will also do a visual field test to check your peripheral (side) vision, and make sure you can move your eyes around.
- Dilated eye exam. In this exam, the doctor puts drops in your eyes to widen your pupils (the dark spot in the middle of your eye that is actually an opening to let the light in). With the pupil wide open, the doctor can look into the eye and check for problems. It takes about 30 minutes for your pupils to dilate. While they are dilated, your vision will be blurry and sensitive to light.
- Tonometry. This test measures the pressure of the fluid inside your eyes. It checks for glaucoma, a condition caused by extra fluid in the eye that puts too much pressure on the optic nerve and can damage it. If you’ve been to the eye doctor, you might remember tonometry as the “puff of air” test. Depending on your age and your risks for glaucoma, your doctor may use this test or a different kind of tonometry test.
Sometimes the doctor can see more than just eye problems in an eye exam. During the exam, the doctor can get a good look at the blood vessels and nerves in your eye. The eye doctor may be able to tell if you are at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases.
Eye exams can find vision problems so you can correct them and see better for reading, driving, and other activities of daily life.
Eye exams can also find eye problems early so you can do something about them and prevent them from getting worse. Eye exams can sometimes find other possible problems, too, like diabetes, heart disease, stroke risk, and high blood pressure.
Your eye exam will take anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes, so make sure to schedule enough time. The exam is simple and not usually uncomfortable.
Before you go for your eye exam, write down:
- Eye problems or eye surgeries you have had in the past
- Eye symptoms that are bothering you or that you are worried about
- Family history of eye problems
- Any questions you have about your eyes or vision
Take with you to your appointment:
- All medicines, vitamins, and supplements you take
- Your eyeglasses or contact lenses, or both
- Your health insurance card
- Sunglasses to wear after the exam (pupil dilation will make your eyes sensitive to light)
You will know the results of your eye exam by the end of the exam. Ask questions if you don’t understand what the doctor is saying about the results of your exam, or if the doctor forgets to tell you the results. Ask the doctor if there are any changes in your eyes since your last exam. Also ask if you should make any changes to the way you care for your eyes. If you went to an optometrist, ask if you need see an ophthalmologist to follow up on any problems.
If you get a new prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses after your eye exam, be sure to get your new glasses or lenses as soon as you can.
For some problems, an optometrist may recommend that you follow up with an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who specializes in eyes and vision. The ophthalmologist may want to follow up with more tests.
If your pupils were dilated as part of your eye exam, your eyes may be blurry or sensitive to light for 2-3 hours after the exam. Be sure to wear sunglasses to help with light sensitivity. You may also want to have someone drive you home from the appointment.
A regular eye exam is an important way to take care of your eyes. An exam can be done by an optometrist, who is not a medical doctor but is trained in the care of the eyes. It can also be done by an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who specializes in eyes. The eye exam includes several tests to make sure your eyes are healthy and your vision is working properly.
Children do not need full eye exams unless their pediatrician recommends one. Adults should have a full eye exam every 1-4 years, depending on age and risk factors.
To prepare for your eye exam, make a list of questions you want to ask the doctor. Bring with you any medicines you take, as well as your eyeglasses or contact lenses. Also bring a pair of sunglasses with you, because your eyes may be sensitive to light for a little while after your eye exam. You will know your results when the exam is over. Your doctor will tell you what, if anything, you need to do to follow up.