Eye exams are important checkups for your vision and eye health. If you wear eyeglasses or contact lenses, you’ll need regular eye exams to update your prescription. Eye doctors also use this time to look for signs of eye diseases, like glaucoma or cataracts. Learn what happens during an eye exam, how often to get exams and how to prepare for your eye exam appointment.
Eye Exams Are Key to Protecting Your Vision
A comprehensive eye exam is a complete health checkup for your eyes. When you get a full eye exam, your eye doctor will test your vision and also check for any signs of eye diseases. Eye exams are often the only way to find eye diseases early, when they’re easier to treat. This is important because many eye diseases have no early symptoms.
Your eye doctor will check for potential eye health issues like glaucoma, cataracts, dry eye and eye infections. They’ll also test for refractive errors like astigmatism, nearsightedness and farsightedness. Refractive errors make it hard to see clearly, but you can wear eyeglasses or contacts to correct these errors and help you see better.
Before you go in for your eye exam, try writing down any questions you have for your eye doctor. It’s also a good idea to give your eyes a rest before your exam — that way, the vision tests won’t be affected by eye strain. If you wear glasses, bring them with you to your appointment.
What to Expect During an Eye Exam
So what exactly happens during your eye exam? Eye exams are easy and painless, and the whole visit will usually take about 45 minutes to an hour. When you get to the eye doctor’s office, you’ll fill out a form with your personal information, medical history and any vision issues you’ve been noticing. Then the doctor or a technician will do several tests, like:
- A visual acuity test to see how clear your vision is. The doctor will have you read different sizes of letters on an eye chart.
- A visual field test to measure your peripheral vision — or how well you can see things off to each side. The doctor will test if you can see things to each side without moving your head or eyes.
- A color vision test to check for color blindness. You’ll try to read letters or numbers within a pattern of colored dots.
- A pupil response test to see how well your pupils react to light. The doctor will shine a light into your eyes to check your pupils.
- An eye pressure test to check for glaucoma. The doctor will use a special tool to measure the pressure inside your eye. This may involve a puff of air in your eye or a delicate tool touching your eye — but don’t worry, the test doesn’t hurt.
- A refraction assessment to find the right glasses or contacts prescription for you. The doctor will ask you to look through a device with several different lenses and choose the lens combination that lets you see things most clearly.
Your doctor may also dilate your eyes to check for eye diseases. The doctor will put some drops in your eyes to dilate your pupils (make your pupils wider). Dilation makes it easier for the doctor to see inside your eyes and get a good look at your retinas — the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of your eyes.
What to Expect After Your Eye Exam
If your eyes were dilated during your exam, your vision will be blurry and more sensitive to light for a few hours afterward. You shouldn’t drive for a few hours after dilation, so plan to get a ride home. It’s also a good idea to avoid trying to read or look at screens for a bit. Wear sunglasses on the way home to protect your eyes — the eye doctor may have disposable sunglasses you can use if you forgot yours.
If you didn’t get your eyes dilated, your sight should be normal afterwards. And if you got a new glasses prescription, you can go ahead and order new eyeglasses! Many eye doctors sell glasses at their offices. But if you’re planning to buy glasses online or at another store, ask the eye doctor to write down your pupillary distance on your prescription before you leave the office. You’ll need this number to order new glasses.
When and How Often to Get Eye Exams
Wondering when you or your child should get an eye exam? How often you need eye exams depends on your age, your health conditions and whether you wear glasses or contacts. Different eye health organizations may have slightly different recommendations.
Children can get vision screenings and basic eye checkups from their pediatrician. The pediatrician may recommend that your child see an eye doctor or another type of specialist if they have signs of an eye disease or vision problem. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends that children get the following eye exams:
- Newborn screening to check basic eye health and find any signs of eye diseases
- Screening between six and 12 months old to check eye alignment (whether the two eyes look in the same direction)
- Screening between one and three years old to check how their eyes are developing
- Screening between three and five years old to check visual acuity (how clearly your child can see) and eye alignment
- Screening at five years old to check visual acuity and eye alignment
After that, your child’s doctor can recommend how often they need an eye exam, based on their health and vision.
For adults with clear vision and no eye health problems, AAO recommends the following schedule of comprehensive eye exams with an eye doctor:
- One exam in your twenties
- Two exams your thirties
- One exam when you turn 40
- An exam every one or two years starting when you turn 65
If you have diabetes or another health condition that raises your risk for eye diseases, ask your doctor how often you need an eye exam. You may also need more frequent eye exams if you have a family history of eye problems.
And if you wear eyeglasses or contact lenses, you’ll probably need an eye exam once a year. In fact, you’ll have a hard time ordering new glasses or contacts if your prescription is more than a year old. So don’t put off that visit to the eye doctor — it’s the best way to protect your eye health and keep your vision as clear as possible.