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What to Expect at a Comprehensive Eye Exam

Across the world, over 1 billion people deal with some sort of impairment of their vision. That means that there are over a billion people who need eye exams and possibly corrective lenses. But many people have a fear of going to the eye doctor.

Going to the eye doctor isn’t as bad as many people think it is. While it’s true that eye exams involve being up close and personal with your eyes, a vulnerable place for most people, it’s actually a pretty tame exam overall.

That’s why today we’re breaking down the basics of a comprehensive eye care exam. Keep reading to learn more!

Your Health History

The first thing that your Ophthalmologist or Optometrist  is going to do is get a complete medical history from you. Before you head to your doctor, it’s a good idea to write down all the medications you take, their dosages, and what time a day you take them.

The doctor will also ask you about your family history, and it doesn’t just include eye health. It’s important for the doctor to understand what your medical history is on all fronts so that they can keep an eye out for symptoms related to those issues.

Always give a complete and accurate medical history when you start seeing a new doctor. It helps to write down your family history so you don’t forget.

Testing Your Vision

Next, your doctor is going to do is test your vision. They’ll use a variety of different tests, machines, and procedures to make sure that your eyes are functioning the way they’re supposed to.

Testing for Visual Acuity

Everyone knows what a visual acuity test is, even if they don’t know they know it. Do you know the picture with the rows of letters that have the big E on the top? That’s part of the visual acuity test.

This test works to check how well you see individual letter details from certain distances. This is the test that doctors use to determine the fraction that your visual acuity is expressed by.

When the doctor describes you as having 20/20 vision, it means that you can see something at 20 feet, which is considered “normal.”

If your vision is 20/40, it means that you have to be 20 feet away to see something that most people can see from 40 feet away.

The Color Blindness Test

It’s important for your doctor to determine whether or not you’re color blind. The test that determines this looks like a circle of colorful dots. These dots are mostly the same color or shade, but inside of the circle is an image, usually a number, made from a different set of colorful dots.

If you can see the number inside of the circle, you can see colors just fine. If you can’t, you might have some issues with colorblindness.

Eye Alignment

Next, your doctor will check your eyes for how well they are aligned and how they work together. This is done with what’s known as the cover test.

During the cover test, the doctor will have you cover one of your eyes and focus on a fixed point ahead of you. As you focus, they’ll move the cover back and forth between your eyes to test how well your eyes continue to fixate on the focal point even when it can’t see it.

Eye Movement

At some point during your eye exam, your doctor will have you hold your head still and follow a moving object. When they do this, they’re testing to make sure that your eyes can move smoothly while following an object.

If your eyes don’t move smoothly together, you could develop problems with eye strain or reading ability later in life. It could also change your ability to play sports or certain hobbies as well.

Depth Perception

The depth perception test, also known as stereopsis, is another important part of a comprehensive eye exam. There are a number of ways that doctors can check for your ability to visually understand 3D objects, but we’ll discuss the most commonly used one here today.

The doctor might give you a pair of three-dimensional glasses and hand you a book to look at. Inside the book will be a number of different patterns for you to look at.

Each one of these patterns will have four circles. All you have to do is figure out which of the circles looks closest to you.

When you find the circle that looks closest to you, it shows the doctor that your eyes work together to properly understand distance and depth without issue.

Glaucoma Testing

The glaucoma test is one of the tests that many people who go for eye exams don’t like. But technology is changing and as the years go on, testing for glaucoma becomes less and less uncomfortable.

You might know the glaucoma test as the test that administers a puff of air into your eye. It’s also known as the non-contact tonometry test.

For the non-contact tonometry test, you start by putting your chin on the rest in front of the machine. Sometimes there will be an image in the machine for you to focus on but other times its just a soft light.

As you focus on the image in front of you (and try not to blink) the doctor will administer a small puff of air at your eye. This allows the tonometer to check how much your eye resists the air, which tells the doctor what your intraocular pressure is.

If your eye pressure is too high, you could have glaucoma.

Some Ophthalmologists or Optometrists might still test for glaucoma with numbing eye drops and a machine that touches your eye, but the air puff test is much less invasive and causes less anxiety in patients so it is starting to fall into medical obscurity.

Slit Lamp Exam

Once your doctor has a good idea of how your eye operates from the outside, they’ll want to take a better look at your inner eye. They’ll do this by looking through a microscope with a chin rest.

This microscope can look at the insides of your eye under intense magnification to the point where the doctor should be able to see your retina and optic nerve.

This slit lamp exam is great for checking for a number of different issues like cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, and corneal ulcers.

Testing Your Prescription

For the most part, what we talked about above is all that happens during a routine eye care exam. But if you need new glasses or to change the prescription of your existing glasses, or you need to get your contacts fitted, there will be additional parts to your visit.


If you need eyeglasses, your doctor will give you this test early in the exam to figure out what your prescription should be.

During a retinoscopy, the doctor will turn the lights in the room down and have you focus on a large target in front of you. While you focus, the doctor will shine a light at your eye and change lenses in front of you.

This test gives the doctor a general idea of where your prescription needs to be, something that will be refined in the next test.


While the retinoscopy helps to figure out the general strength of eyeglasses you need, the refraction test will narrow down that prescription to exacts.

During this test, you’ll sit in front of a machine that looks like a large pair of metal eyeglasses.

The doctor will have you focus on the same letters that you used in your visual acuity test while they flip back and forth between different strength prescriptions. While they do, they’ll as you which slide allows you to see the letters with more clarity.

Sometimes both of the options they provide you will be blurry, that’s okay. They’re working their way up the steps of prescription strength.

Pupil Dilation

Some tests that your doctor might need to perform will require them to dilate your eyes. They’ll do this by giving you eye drops that will make your pupils larger over a period of time.

This will make your eyes sensitive to light for a while and you won’t be able to focus on things the same. But don’t worry, after a few hours your sight will be back to normal.

Comprehensive Eye Care is Important: Schedule Your Eye Exam Today

If you want to ensure that you can keep your vision for as long as possible, comprehensive eye care is important. No matter how good you think your vision is, you need to see an eye doctor as soon as possible. You might be surprised by how much better your vision could be.

If you would like to schedule your comprehensive eye exam, contact us!