An autorefractor, sometimes called an automated refractor, is a device used during an eye exam to help determine visual acuity. The autorefractor has been in use since the 1970s. It quickly became a popular diagnostic device because of its ease of use. An optometrist or ophthalmologist uses the autorefractor to examine how the eye processes light. Refraction errors are identified with this device and can help the eye doctor determine whether a person needs prescription glasses or contact lenses.
The traditional exam with an autorefractor takes just a few seconds. The patient is seated and rests his or her chin on a chin rest. A picture is examined by one eye at a time. When the picture is ideally placed on the retina, the autorefractor prints a detailed reading that determines visual acuity and the need for any type of corrective lenses.
This exam is generally followed by an exam in which patients look at pictures and respond to the optometrist about how clear or fuzzy an image is. This examination tries several lenses to further determine prescription strength. In young children or in those who have developmental disabilities, this talking process can be difficult. In these cases, the autorefractor is considered to be the best method for determining light refraction, as it does not require verbal responses from the patient.
An autorefractor examination does not involve dilation of the pupils, but it can be a bit challenging for young children to stay still. Since the autorefractor is stationary, examining light refraction in children has remained somewhat challenging. To address the problem, scientists developed a portable autorefractor that is particularly helpful in examining children. The optometrist can adjust the autorefractor to accommodate the child, rather than making the child accommodate the optometrist.
The portable autorefractor holds great promise in the future for better eye health, because it can also allow optometrists to conduct preliminary eye examinations for those who cannot get to a doctor’s office. Mobile clinics that service low income or at risk populations can now ask an optometrist with a portable autorefractor to spend a day identifying patients who may need corrective lenses.
Additionally, some variations on the traditional autorefractor have been developed. The aberrometer is an advanced form of autorefractor that examines light refraction from multiple sites on the eye. New improvements on the autorefractor combine other eye examination functions. Autorefractors can be combined with corneal tomography measurement and wavefront analyzers to save space in the optometry office and to quicken the pace of an eye exam. These machines are relatively new, so many optometrists may not yet have them.