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What to expect from your eye exam

Most blinding eye diseases can be stopped or slowed if caught early. Unless you have regular eye exams, eye problems that often have no symptoms could creep up without you knowing. An eye doctor will be able to pick up if there is a problem with your eyes before symptoms even start to develop.

First things first…

What is a vision screening?

A vision screening is a quick test to check whether you could have a vision problem that needs to be investigated. There are many types of vision screenings, but they typically involve simple tests such as testing your eyes using the Snellen Chart, colour charts or checking your eye’s reaction to light. As a child, you may have had a vision screening at school. As an adult, you will undergo a screening when you apply for your driver’s license.

Vision screenings are not a failsafe way of assessing vision or eye health. Testing methods are limited, equipment may be inadequate or outdated, and tests are often carried out by people who aren’t trained.

What is an eye exam?

Done by an optometrist, a professional eye exam is the only way to confirm or rule out any eye disease or vision problem. At your eye exam, you can expect to be asked a series of questions, which will be followed by various tests. Your optometrist will determine which tests need to be done based on your age, signs and symptoms, medical history, and any previous injuries.

Each test your eye doctor does, using various instruments, lights, and lenses, will assess a different aspect of your vision and eye health. Together, these tests offer a proper assessment of your vision to identify if you have any problems, as well as what they are. Read more about choosing an optometrist.

Common tests in an eye exam

Your optometrist may do a combination of these tests during an eye exam:

  • Refraction – a test involving several lenses to determine your lens prescription.
  • Visual acuity – a test that measures how well you see at near and far distances.
  • Visual field test – a measure of your peripheral or side vision.
  • Slit-lamp exam – a test using a beam of light through a microscope to check for glaucoma, macular degeneration, or detached retina.
  • Dilated pupillary exam – a test done while your pupils are dilated to check for signs of disease in your retina.
  • Ultrasound – sound waves create a picture of the inside of your eyes to diagnose cataracts or tumours.
  • Applanation tonometry – a physical, pressure test on your cornea that looks for signs of glaucoma.
  • Non-contact tonometry – air is used to test eye pressure.
  • Corneal topography – a computerised test that maps the curve of your cornea to check for swelling or astigmatism.
  • Fluorescein angiogram – a test that looks at how blood moves into your retina to check for abnormal blood vessels or circulation problems.

Why regular eye exams are important

Regular eye exams are important to identify eye problems early when they are more easily treated. When you have regular eye exams, your eye doctor will note changes to your vision and be able to identify the common causes of blindness such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. Early diagnosis and treatment of eye and vision problems can help prevent vision loss.

How often should you have an eye exam

Periodic eye exams are an important part of preventive health care. Children should have an eye exam at six months of age, again at three years old, and before they start primary school. From primary school until 60 years of age, you should have an eye exam every second year. After that, you should have one annually.