What can I Expect During a Vision Exam?

K T Solis

Receiving a comprehensive vision exam each year helps people to maintain healthy vision. An eye doctor can check a person's vision, determining whether the person is in the early stages of an eye disease. Many eye diseases do not reveal obvious symptoms or signs; therefore, visiting the eye doctor for a vision exam can prevent the deterioration of a person's eyesight. When patients visit the eye doctor, they will be subjected to a variety of vision tests.

An eye exam should be performed annually.
An eye exam should be performed annually.

First, the patient may fill out a questionnaire concerning his history. He will be asked if he has any medical problems or if there is a history of specific diseases in his family. The patient will need to notify the eye doctor of current medications he takes as well. Next, the eye doctor will begin to administer a series of tests that measure the health of the patient's eyes.

Some eye doctors use the Snellen Chart to test a patient's vision.
Some eye doctors use the Snellen Chart to test a patient's vision.

Initially, the eye doctor often begins with a retinoscopy. In this particular type of exam, the patient looks through lenses of a machine as he reads of series of letters. The lights in the room are dimmed and the patient is asked to read the letters on the wall before him. As he does so, the doctor shines a light into the patient's eye and changes the lenses to see which prescription lens is the best fit for the patient.

Eye exams will include inspections for cataracts and deformities.
Eye exams will include inspections for cataracts and deformities.

Eye doctors may also choose to administer a test called the cover test. During this type of exam, the eye doctor tells the patient to focus on a distant object while the doctor covers one of the patient's eyes. This allows the eye doctor to determine how much the eye needs to move in order to focus on the distant object. The cover exam, although a simple test, helps the doctor to see if the patient has an eye problem that can lead to difficulties with depth perception or other types of binocular vision problems.

A vision exam is helpful to help people maintain healthy vision.
A vision exam is helpful to help people maintain healthy vision.

Another type of vision test used by eye doctors is the refraction test, a test used to accurately pinpoint a patient's specific lens prescription. During this procedure, a machine called a phoropter is placed in front of the patient's eyes and periodically changes the lenses. The doctor will then ask the patient which lenses allow the patient to see the most clearly.

In order to evaluate whether a patient has an eye disease, the eye doctor will perform a slit-lamp exam. This particular test uses an instrument that magnifies the structure of the eye. The patient places his chin on a small platform, and the instrument shines a light into the patient's eye. Next, the doctor looks through an eyepiece similar to a microscope in order to conduct the examination. By using the slit-lamp, the doctor can diagnose serious eye diseases such as macular degeneration and corneal ulcers.

Glaucoma tests measure the pressure inside the patient's eyes. The non-contact tonometer and the applanation tonometer are two common ways to test for glaucoma, a serious disease where the optic nerve becomes severely damaged. Non-contact tonometer uses puffs of air to test pressure inside the eye. First, the patient puts his chin on a chin rest and focuses on a light inside the machine. The doctor will then direct a small amount of air toward the eye.

The applanation tonometer is an instrument that tests eye pressure as well. Numbing eye drops are placed inside the patient's eye. Next, the patient stares ahead as the eye doctor gently touches the eye with an instrument that emits a blue light.

Following a vision exam, the eye doctor will share the test results with the patient. He or she will discuss treatments for any diagnosed eye diseases or prescribe corrective lenses for the patient. A yearly vision exam is a necessary part of any wellness plan, as it can help to detect or prevent vision problems that can adversely affect a patient's life.

Routine eye exams are painless and can help detect vision or eye problems early.
Routine eye exams are painless and can help detect vision or eye problems early.

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Discussion Comments


@irontoenail - Also, even if your prescription seems to have settled, it can still change as you get older. If you are short sighted, you could end up developing problems with farsightedness or the other way around.

My mother thought her eyes were fine and that she was just getting headaches that were blurring her vision, but it turned out she was having problems focusing with her eyes and those were causing the headaches. If she hadn't been offered a free vision exam I don't know if she would have ever been diagnosed.


@browncoat - I think it's unfortunate that many places don't have regular glaucoma screenings and that you only get them if you go in to the optometrist for something else. It seems like the kind of thing that should be screened for on a national level.

I actually need to go in and have a vision exam in the next few months. I've not been doing it as regularly as I used to because it's so easy (and usually cheaper) to get eyeglasses and contacts over the internet. And my prescription hasn't changed in years. But they don't just test for that so I should go just in case.


The glaucoma test is always very startling. I don't think you can really prepare for a puff of air against your open eye and it always makes me jump with surprise.

It's a relief to find out I don't have glaucoma though, because my grandfather had it and I can't help but think it's only a matter of time before I develop it. As long as you get it diagnosed early, it can be monitored, but if you don't you can end up going blind before you notice it happening.

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