Back to Vision Health
Woman with paddle during eye exam

Everything You Need to Know About Eye Exams

By this point in life, you’ve probably had an eye exam. Most likely (hopefully!) you have one every year whether you wear glasses or contacts or not.

Vision changes can be gradual, and you may not even realize you aren’t seeing as well as you could. If you don’t wear corrective lenses, you might discover you now need to, even if it’s just readers. Routine eye exams are essential if you wear glasses or contacts to keep your prescription up to date. Plus, it gives you an excuse to try some new frames!

Routine eye exams can also detect early signs of serious health conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure. And, if you have diabetes or heart issues, these exams are another way to monitor possible changes in your condition.

Other diseases—like glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration—can also be detected during an exam. These conditions don’t necessarily have symptoms you’d recognize, and early detection may help preserve your eyesight.

It’s always good to be prepared for your visit.

Tell your eye doctor about any changes to your vision since your last visit (blurry vision, hard to see at night, trouble judging distances). You should also let them know if you’ve had any recent health issues, surgeries, or injuries, or if you have a family history of eye problems.

Take these with you to your appointment:

  • Current glasses, contacts, sunglasses, and insurance information.
  • List of current medications (even if they’re over the counter) and the name/address of your primary care provider.
  • If your exam will include dilation (and most do) you might want someone to drive you home.

It’s good to ask your eye doctor some questions during your visit. Here are a few to get you started:

  • What are the benefits of wearing contacts and glasses? Which is best for me?
  • What can I do, proactively, to protect my vision or take better care of my eyes?
  • Do I need laser or cataract surgery?
  • Why should I wear sunglasses?

What happens at the appointment?

Your eye doctor will likely perform most, if not all these tests during your exam.

  • The Snellen Chart. This is that iconic chart with letter-filled rows that graces every eye doctor’s office. These days some eye doctors use a projected chart rather than a poster on the wall. You know the drill—they’ll watch to see the smallest row you can see. They’ll check both eyes separately. You’ll likely cover your eye with an occluder (that little paddle).
  • Refraction. This is when the eye doctor uses a retinoscope or computerized vision-testing instrument. They’ll shine a light in your eyes, get a read on your vision and estimate your prescription. Then comes the one or two drill—they’ll use a series of different lenses to find out which help you see better.
  • Color test. This is to find out if you’re colorblind. You’ll review cards with colored dots that make up numbers—if you see the numbers your color vision is fine. More men than women have a color vision deficiency.
  • Glaucoma test. This is the puff of air test that measures the fluid pressure in your eyes.
  • Dilation. Eye doctors dilate your eyes with drops that make your pupils bigger so they can take a closer look at any eye or health conditions.
  • Slit lamp. Also known as a biomicroscope, gives your doctor a magnified view of the front and inside of your eyes. This can help them detect things like cataracts, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy.

Sources: VSP® Vision Care, “Why an Eye Exam is About More Than Just Vision,” “Planning Your Eye Doctor Visit,” and “Eye Exam 101

Happy senior couple spending leisure time in park.

How to Prevent Falls

While you probably didn’t consider falls a big deal when you were a kid, or even in your 20s and 30s, ...

Read More
Woman reading prescription bottle label.

How to Manage Your Medications

Taking daily medications can be challenging, especially if you take more than one. Here are some common ...

Read More

Subscribe to the Health Connection E-newsletter

Sign up for newsletter