We visit our doctors regularly to make sure our bodies are healthy, but what about our eyes? Do we really need to get eye exams? The answer is a definitive yes. Even if you have had a vision screening at work or school, a complete eye exam can evaluate the overall health of your eyes, from front to back, not just visual acuity. An eye doctor can check for early signs of serious conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and detached retina.1 So yes, regular eye exams are very important.
But if you’ve never had an eye exam before, you may be wondering what it entails and what you should expect. To start, your optometrist or ophthalmologist will ask about your medical history and any eye issues you might be experiencing. It’s important for your eye doctor to know information like any medication you may be taking, whether or not you suffer from headaches, or if any of your relatives have a history of eye problems.2
A comprehensive eye exam can take about an hour and consists of a wide variety of tests and procedures to evaluate your vision and check the health of your eyes. Some of the tests that you may receive are:
You know the eye chart with the big E at the top? It’s a very useful tool in evaluating the sharpness of your distance vision. A smaller hand held chart can be used to measure your near vision.
If you need eyeglasses or contact lenses, your eye doctor will use refraction tests to determine your exact prescription and how your eyes work together as a team
If light rays entering your cornea and lens do not “focus perfectly on the back of your eye, you have what is known as a ‘refractive error’”3 and you may need glasses, contact lenses or refractive surgery to see clearly.
Slit Lamp Exam
A wide range of eye conditions and diseases can be detected with a slit lamp, which is a binocular microscope that your eye doctor will use to examine the structure of your eye under magnification. Your eye doctor will examine your eyelids, lashes, cornea, iris, lens and fluid chamber between the cornea and iris. Your doctor may even use a dye to color the film of tears over your eyes to reveal any damaged cells.4
Glaucoma is a serious condition that can be better treated when caught early. A common glaucoma test measures the intraocular pressure to determine if you have or are at risk for glaucoma.
When your eye doctor gives you drops to dilate your pupils, you may be more sensitive to light because more light is entering your eye. But the reason for pupil dilation is important. It lets your doctor get a good view of your eye’s internal structure as well as the back of your eye including your retina and the blood vessels that nourish it. Your eye doctor will use different instruments to look inside your eye when your pupils are dilated. Pupil dilation is critical for your doctor to be able to examine your lens for signs of a cataract. The dilation will last for a few hours.5
An eye exam may include other tests such as tests for color blindness, depth perception, peripheral vision and other specialized tests as needed.
If you are over age 40, you should have a dilated eye exam from an ophthalmologist or optometrist at least every two years. Those over age 35 with a family history of glaucoma should have an exam every year. 5