Eye exams help detect eye problems at their earliest stage when they're most treatable. They give your doctor a chance to help you correct or adapt to vision changes and provide you with information on how to care for your eyes.
When to Have an Eye Exam
Several factors may determine how frequently you need an eye exam, including your age, health and risk of developing eye problems.
General guidelines include:
Children 5 years and younger. For children under 3, your pediatrician will likely look for the most common eye problems: lazy eye, crossed eyes or turned-out eyes. Your child's first more comprehensive eye exam should be done between the ages of 3 and 5.
School-age children and adolescents. Have your child's vision checked before he or she enters first grade. If your child has no symptoms of vision problems and you don't have a family history of vision problems, have your child's vision rechecked every two years. If your child does have vision problems or a family history of vision problems, have your child's vision rechecked as advised by your eye doctor.
Adults. In general, if you're healthy and have no symptoms of vision problems, you should have your vision checked every five to 10 years in your 20s and 30s. Between ages 40 and 65, have your vision checked every two to four years. After age 65, get your eyes checked every one to two years. If you wear glasses, have a family history of eye disease or have a chronic disease, such as diabetes, that puts you at greater risk of eye disease, have your eyes checked more frequently.
Types of Doctors
Three kinds of eye specialists may perform an eye exam. Which specialist you choose may be a matter of personal preference or depend on the nature of your eye problem:
Ophthalmologists. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who provide full eye care, such as giving you a complete eye exam, prescribing corrective lenses, diagnosing and treating complex eye diseases, and performing eye surgery.
Optometrists. Optometrists provide many of the same services as ophthalmologists, such as evaluating your vision, prescribing corrective lenses, diagnosing common eye disorders and treating selected eye diseases with drugs. If you have a complex eye problem or need surgery, your doctor can refer you to an ophthalmologist.
Opticians. Opticians fill prescriptions for eyeglasses, including assembling, fitting and selling them. Some opticians also sell contact lenses.
How to Prepare
If you wear contact lenses or glasses, bring them to your appointment. Your doctor will want to make sure your prescription is the best one for you. Also be prepared to remove them during the exam. Expect questions about your vision history. Your answers will help your eye doctor understand your risk of eye disease and vision problems.
Be prepared to give specific information, including:
Are you having eye problems now?
Have you had any eye problems in the past?
Were you born prematurely?
Do you wear glasses or contacts now? If so, are you satisfied with them?
What health problems have you had in recent years?
Are you taking any medications?
Do you have any allergies to medications, food or other substances?
Have you ever had eye surgery?
Does anyone in your family have eye problems?
Do you or does anyone in your family have any other health problems that can affect the whole body such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease?
What you can expect
A complete eye exam involves a series of tests designed to evaluate your vision and check for eye diseases. The first part of the examination, such as the taking of your medical history and the initial eye test, may be performed by a technician who assists your doctor. Your doctor may use a variety of instruments, shine bright lights directly at your eyes and request that you look through an array of lenses. Each test during an eye exam evaluates a different aspect of your vision or eye health.
An eye exam usually involves these steps:
First, you'll be asked about your medical history and any vision problems you might be experiencing.
Next, how clearly you can see (visual acuity) is measured. This helps determine your prescription for glasses.
Your eye pressure is measured, for which you may receive drops that enlarge your pupils.
Your eye doctor checks the health of your eyes, possibly using several lights to evaluate the front of the eye and inside of each eye.
Finally, your eye doctor discusses what he or she found during the exam and answers questions you have about your eyes.
At the end of your eye exam, you and your doctor will discuss the results of all testing, including an assessment of your vision, your risk of eye disease and preventive measures you can take to protect your eyesight.
Normal results from an eye exam include:
Good peripheral vision
Ability to distinguish various colors
Normal-appearing structures of the external eye
Absence of cataract, glaucoma or retinal disorders, such as macular degeneration
Your doctor may give you a prescription for corrective lenses. If your eye exam yields other abnormal results, your doctor will discuss with you next steps for further testing or for treating an underlying condition.