A Guide to Your Next Eye Examination

The following article explains the importance of periodic eye examinations for maintaining eye health, what to expect from an eye exam and how to prepare for it, and the answers to some frequently asked questions. We hope that it will be helpful!

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Table of Contents

The Importance of Eye Testing

Optimal eye health is more than just about having good vision. The ability to see well is just one of many aspects constituting ocular health. In addition to routine testing to monitor general visual acuity, most adults periodically require comprehensive examinations as they age, in order to prevent complications from developing. 

Extensive testing is particularly critical for diabetics, those taking steroid medications, the elderly, and others predisposed to ocular problems. The recommended frequency for such evaluations is discussed in greater detail in the section How Often Should You Have  An Eye Exam?

Optometry is highly advanced today. Optometrists use sophisticated equipment such as slit-lamps and ophthalmoscopes to perform thorough assessments of the entire orbital region. Extensive tests enable early detection of visual disorders and the ability to begin treatment and prescribe corrective measures. 

Many eye disorders do not manifest early and can be difficult to detect. This is why comprehensive evaluations are crucial. Trained professionals can identify the kinds of signs that lay people miss. 

Detection of certain disorders sometimes requires medical care from a specialist. Acute issues such as infections or trauma-induced injuries, may require unscheduled visits to a specialist, or in serious cases, emergency medical intervention.

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Preparation For Your Exam

The following steps will ensure that you benefit from your appointment:

  • Do your research: Before scheduling an appointment, ask around for recommendations of good specialists in your region. It is best to select professionals with good reputations. 
  • Describe your symptoms: Describe your symptoms when scheduling a consultation for an acute problem. Some conditions require immediate attention. Acute trauma requires more immediate intervention than scheduling an annual optical test. By listing your symptoms, an optometrist can gauge how critical the situation is. In certain instances, they may recommend emergency medical intervention.
  • Come prepared: 
  • Bring all prescription lenses to the appointment, including contact lenses, sports goggles, and reading glasses. 
  • Inform the doctor of your personal and family medical history and list any prescription medications. Report on any current symptoms. 

Ask questions: Don’t be ashamed to ask for clarification if something is unclear. Be your own advocate!

What to Expect

What to Expect

The length of an exam depends on your medical history and the reason for your visit, which will be discussed at the beginning of the evaluation. Exams for the young and healthy are generally shorter in duration and should average under 30 minutes. Standard procedures include:

  • Checking Ocular-Muscle Movement: This is a common way to measure alignment. The doctor will ask you to follow and track an object.
  • Visual Acuity Assessment: This checks overall vision. You will be asked to read from a Snellen chart where the letters decrease in size as you progress down the chart.
  • Cover Test: The doctor will cover and uncover each eye while you focus on an object, to determine how well they work in unison.
  • Assessing The Pupil: The doctor will see how well your pupils adjust to nearby objects and light, as well as examine external parts of the orbital region.

In addition to standard assessments for visual acuity, diabetics, people taking steroid medications, adults after 40, and others at higher risk for vision disorders require extensive evaluations to monitor and prevent further deterioration. More exhaustive evaluations may take as long as 90 minutes and they include the following:

  • Glaucoma testing: Diagnosis is easy and painless, using a device that subjects the eyes to bursts of strong air pressure. 
  • Fundoscopy: A magnifying instrument called an ophthalmoscope is used to observe the retinal and optical region. 
  • An open-dilated test: This is a standard procedure for diabetics, where drops are administered to dilate the pupils, allowing thorough evaluation. Take a friend with you if you are driving, since you will be unable to drive home with dilated pupils.
  • A slit-lamp examination: This instrument creates a 3D image, allowing for analysis of the entire orbital structure.
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Common Questions

Many experts recommend annual testing for children as young as 5-6 years of age. Those predisposed to ocular disorders require frequent care, depending on individual medical history. Diabetics are encouraged to annually see a specialist, unless an optometrist deems more frequent appointments necessary. Acute health issues from infection or injury occasionally require emergency medical intervention. Age and health are key determinants in how often you should see an optometrist, and what kind of testing you require. Speak with your doctor to find out how often to schedule appointments.
That depends on several factors, including age, medical history, and lifestyle. Diabetics, the elderly, people taking steroid medications, and those with chronic ocular issues are high risk for serious conditions. So are those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heavy alcoholic drinkers, and heavy smokers. Certain ethnic groups are susceptible to vision disorders. People who engage in competitive physical sports, or work in industrial work environments at higher risk for injuries involving trauma to the region. Babies and toddlers (and their parents) are vulnerable to conjunctivitis, a common, (usually harmless) highly-treatable, contagious infection known as pinkeye.
Treatments vary depending on complications, the health and medical history of the patient, and how early the condition is detected. Different interventions include: Corrective prescription glasses and contact lenses. Antibiotics for infections such as conjunctivitis Surgery to correct cataracts or other issues such as corneal laceration Medicated drops/ointments to prevent visual deterioration from glaucoma Vision Therapy for people with visual-motor or neurological deficits Removal of a foreign object
While it is difficult to list all of the symptoms requiring immediate attention, contact an ophthalmologist if you experience any of the following signs; particularly if they occur following trauma to the head or orbital region: Redness, swelling, irritation Pain or discomfort Heavy tearing Loss of vision, double or blurred vision Bulging eyes Discharge or crustiness Floaters Sensation of a foreign object
Visual acuity is the ability to see a target object clearly at a certain distance. For instance, seeing 20/20 means that a person can see the target clearly and sharply as opposed to someone who has 20/100 who can see at 20 feet what someone sees clearly at 100 feet. There are also two types of acuities, distance and near.
A few things can be expected when coming in for an eye exam. Every patient will be greeted by the front desk. For first time patients there will be some paperwork to fill out, namely intake forms. First time patients should also bring their insurance information if applicable. Returning patients need only arrive at the office and wait to be seen. If a patient wears glasses they should bring in their most recent pair so the doctors can take a look. Lastly, everyone should have an enjoyable and safe experience.
Most exams follow a similar layout in terms of tests performed. There is a visual acuity test, retinoscopy, refraction, external exam, slit lamp, and a dilation. These tests center around clarity of vision, retinal health and general eye health.
In general, an annual comprehensive eye examination takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. It depends on what kind of tests an optometrist performs on you in addition to other factors such as your age, family history, medical history and symptoms. While certain eye exams can be done in 20 minutes, be wary of any exam that is under 15 minutes, as that is a strong indication that the exam is not assessing all aspects of your eye health. Be prepared to spend more time at your appointment if you intend to shop for glasses and have them fitted. Also be prepared to spend more time if you have health conditions or eye conditions such as dry eye, allergies, glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, or diabetes.
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Additional Information

Comprehensive exams are crucial for assessing visual acuity and ocular health by preventing and treating various disorders. Always inform an optometrist of aberrant symptoms. If your signs are serious, such as those following trauma to the head, seek immediate medical attention.

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