Path to improved health
What is an eye exam?
An eye exam is a checkup with a doctor who specializes in eyes. This could be an optometrist or ophthalmologist. In general, eye exams are pain free. Children’s exams often are short. Adult exams may be longer based on how much testing you need.
Below are the most common types of tests during an eye exam. Other tests may be done based on your health, risk factors, and initial results.
- Health test. The doctor reviews your overall health and family history. They ask about any problems or symptoms you have. They also ask for a list of medicines you take.
- Vision test. The doctor asks you to read a series of letters from a chart. The chart contains different sizes and patterns of letters to test your eye strength. This test is done on one eye at a time.
- Prescription test. This is only done if your vision needs correction. The doctor has you look through a series of lenses to read the chart. This process determines your eye prescription. The doctor helps you decide on contacts, glasses, or both.
- Pupil test. The doctor looks at your pupils in the dark and in the light. This checks your pupils’ response or reaction.
- Eye pressure test. The doctor uses a machine to check the pressure of your eyes. One type of test emits a quick puff of air on each eye. Another test applies a tiny pin near or against each eye. High eye pressure can be a sign of glaucoma.
- Movement test. The doctor asks you to move your eyes in multiple directions. This checks your eye speed and alignment.
- Front of eye test. The doctor looks at your eyes up close with a microscope. This allows them to see your cornea, iris, lens, and eyelids. The doctor checks for signs of cataracts as well as scratches or scars. The doctor also checks for astigmatism (a defect in the shape of your eye.)
- Back of eye test. The doctor may put drops in your eyes to dilate, or widen, them. This allows them to check your retina and optic nerve for disease. If the doctor dilates your eyes for this test, you may not be able to drive for several hours. It also can make it hard to read and make your eyes sensitive to light for a short time.
- Side vision test. The doctor asks you to look far to each side. This checks for signs of glaucoma.
When should I get an eye exam?
Regular eye exams are important. The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends the following schedule.
|Age||Eye health: Risk free||Eye health: At risk|
|Birth to 24 months||At 6 months of age||By 6 months of age or earlier, if needed|
|2 to 5 years||At 3 years of age||By 3 years of age or earlier, if needed|
|6 to 18 years||Before first grade, then every 2 years||Before first grade, then every year|
|19 to 60 years||Every 2 years||Every 1 to 2 years|
|61 years and older||Every year||At least every year|
How do I know if I’m at risk for eye problems?
There are many things that can put you at risk. These vary for children and adults.
Children may be at risk for eye problems if they have:
- family history of eye disease
- history of poor eye health
- a known vision defect
- infections, such as AIDS or rubella
- low birth weight
- seizures or hemorrhages
- an abnormal eye shape
- a high refractive error
- a condition that affects the central nervous system
- a condition that requires them to be on oxygen.
Adults may be at risk for eye problems if they have:
- family history of eye disease, such as glaucoma or macular degeneration
- history of poor eye health
- high blood pressure
- contact lenses
- previous eye surgeries
- a job that could be harmful to their eyes
- other known vision problems.
Things to consider
There are several things people can do to help prevent eye issues.
- Get regular eye and physical exams.
- Practice proper use and cleaning of your contact lenses and glasses.
- Use eye drops and medicines as prescribed by doctors.
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes when you are sick or preparing food.
- Wear protective eyewear when you play sports. Wear goggles when you swim.
- Wear safety eyewear if your job and/or environment are dangerous.
- Protect your eyes from the sun. Choose sunglasses that block 100% of ultraviolet A and B rays.
- Stay hydrated and get plenty of sleep.
- Rest your eyes from staring at the computer or TV.
- Eat a balanced diet. Fruits and vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, aid in eye health. Omega-3 fatty acids also can provide eye health benefits.
- Be active to avoid health and eye conditions related to overweight and obesity.
- Do not smoke or quit smoking.
When to see a doctor
Contact your doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms. They may be signs of an eye infection or other eye problem.
- Blurry vision.
- Loss of vision.
- Severe pain.
- Sensitivity to light.
- Extreme tearing.
- Substance in your eye.
- Eye scratch.
- Eye injury or trauma.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How often should I have an eye exam?
- What is my risk for certain eye problems?
- Do I have any health conditions that put my eye health at risk?
- Do I have dry eyes?
- What type of protective eyewear should I get?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.