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  • Writer's pictureMaria Cholakova

What to Expect During an Eye Exam?

As you embark on a journey to better ocular health through regular vision screenings, you are probably curious to know what happens and what to expect during an eye exam. This is normal, especially for people who have skipped all their routine exams throughout their lifetime. Going to the eye doctor for the first time may seem intimidating, but it's nothing too stressful in reality.

Table of Content:

2.1. Discussion

In honor of National Eye Exam Month, we would like to invite you to read on, learn more and get ready for an upcoming eye exam.

The Benefits of Eye Checkups

Eye care is a dynamic process. Our eyes, much like the rest of our bodies, change over time. Having periodic checkups contribute to maintaining optimal sight. But remember, an eye exam is not solely about identifying visual impairments. It is also an opportunity to gain insights into your general health.

The eyes can provide clues to underlying health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and even neurological disorders. Timely diagnosis and intervention are key to managing these conditions effectively.

As technology and medical knowledge continue to advance, eye care professionals have access to cutting-edge tools and techniques. So they can provide you with the most accurate eye examination possible. Embrace these advancements and the care they represent for your visual well-being.

eye exam

Eye Exam: Step by Step

An eye exam is a thorough and non-invasive process. The standard eye exam is a series of tests that evaluate both the vision and the health of your eyes. It usually takes a few minutes and involves the following steps:


  • Current complaints and symptoms

  • Medical history

  • Medications list

  • Allergies

The exam begins with a few brief questions to understand the patient’s current complaints. The ophthalmologist will actively try to find out when the complaints started, what other symptoms are associated with them, and how they affect the patient’s vision and daily activities. Following is a comprehensive discussion of the patient's medical history. Next, the patient should provide the list of medications and allergies they take. If a surgical intervention is planned it is important to ask about anticoagulants.

Visual acuity test

The visual acuity test is what most people think about when they hear "eye exam". Medical professionals perform this test using a standard eye chart, measuring the actual eyesight of a person at different distances.

Before the eye test, the eye doctor carries out a short measurement with an auto-refractometer (the machine we use to measure the dioptric power of the eye). It gives an estimate of what kind of glasses you might need. However, this estimate is not always accurate enough to prescribe glasses.


That’s why the eye doctor needs to do some more tests to find the best combination of lenses to give you the clearest vision and the most comfort.

These tests involve showing the patient different letters and numbers on a screen and asking you to compare them. The examiner will ask you bout your preferences and needs, such as your daily habits (how often you use a computer or read a book). This is a way to make sure that your glasses are customized for you and your lifestyle.

Balloon auto-refractometer
The most popular image patients see while examined on an auto-refractometer

The ophthalmologist will then proceed to examine the eyes with an eye chart and corrective glasses to objectify the measurements from the auto-refractometer to find the right dioptric power of each eye (the refraction test).

Refraction test

Next is a refraction test with a phoropter to find the best lens power (diopter) for glasses or contacts. The patient puts on special types of glasses and looks through different lenses. Then tells the doctor which ones make their vision clearer.

refraction test equipment

Eye alignment test

The purpose of the eye alignment test is to check how well the eyes work together. It goes like this. The patient looks at a target while the doctor covers and uncovers each eye. This type of ocular test reveals potential issues with strabismus or lazy eye.

eye cover test

Ocular motility test

Also known as the eye movement test, eye doctors use it to assess how well eyes move and track objects. This is what happens. The patient follows a moving object while keeping their head still. The test detects problems like nystagmus (involuntary eye movements) or saccades (rapid eye movements).

Pupil response test

During a regular eye checkup, the eye doctor performs a pupil response test to assess the function of the optic nerve and brain. The eye doctor shines a light into each eye and observes how a patient's pupils react when exposed to direct or indirect light.

pupil response test

Eye pressure test

During the comprehensive exam, the doctor will probably measure the pressure inside the eyes using a device called a tonometer. This will help diagnose glaucoma, which is a condition causing high eye pressure and damaging the optic nerve.

eye pressure test with tonometer

Slit-lamp eye exam

The slit-lamp exam is conducted with a microscope-like device to examine the eyelids, cornea, iris, and lens. All front parts of the eye. This test reveals any signs of infections, injuries, cataracts, or other eye conditions.

slit lamp eye test

Dilated eye exam

A dilated eye exam is highly recommended for a comprehensive eye exam. The eye doctor puts drops in the eyes to dilate (widen) the patient's pupils. This allows them to see the back part of the patient's eyes (retina, macula, and optic nerve). It detects signs of glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, or other eye diseases.

Optic coherence tomography (OCT)

Optic coherence tomography or OCT is a special eye test that uses a special device to take dim infrared light to take scanning pictures of the inside of your eye. It helps your doctor see the different layers of your retina and optic nerve, which are important for diagnosing conditions that may cause vision problems.

OCT results

Visual field test

Last but not least, the medical examiner may test your peripheral vision with a perimeter device. The procedure includes the patient looking at a screen and pressing a button when they see flashes of light. This is an effective way to detect any blind spots or vision loss caused by glaucoma or other conditions.

After the Eye Exam

After the exam, your eye doctor should discuss the results with you and may prescribe new glasses or contacts, eye drops, medications, or surgery depending on your condition.

Make sure to strictly follow the advice and recommendations of your eye care professional. Including wearing prescription lenses (eyeglasses or contact lenses), implementing lifestyle changes to promote eye health, or scheduling regular follow-up visits to monitor changes in your vision.

Checked by Atanas Bogoev, MD.

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