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From annual physicals to twice-annual dentist appointments, sometimes it can get overwhelming to keep up with the number of recommended doctor visits. But prioritizing your annual comprehensive eye exam is one that shouldn’t be looked over.
That’s because your eye doctor can detect signs of other health conditions, like high blood pressure and diabetes, just from looking at your eyes. And if you have children, the stakes are even higher — 80% of what children learn is visual, and blurred or poor vision can have an effect on schoolwork, sports, and more.
So what exactly happens during an eye examination and what can you expect? (Aside from the thrill of picking out a new pair of designer frames using your vision insurance benefits?) Keep reading to find out.
How to prepare for an eye exam
The most important thing you can do to prepare for your eye exam is to bring your glasses (if you wear them!). This is so your eye doctor can see if you need to change your prescription.
Your doctor may also dilate your eyes, which could cause light sensitivity and blurriness for a few hours. Most eye clinics offer disposable sunglasses to help with this if you have to drive after your eye exam.
Another tip? Plan ahead. You should budget at least one hour of your time for a comprehensive eye exam. There are a number of vision screening tests your eye doctor will perform to check your overall vision health. If you’re interested in purchasing glasses or contacts following your appointment, you’ll definitely want to give yourself some extra time. (Because who likes being rushed when they’re making big decisions?)
What happens during an eye exam
There are two different kinds of eye exams you can visit the eye doctor for: comprehensive eye exams and routine eye exams. Routine or regular eye exams primarily focus on correcting your vision or refractive errors. They don’t take as much time and are useful if you just need to change your prescription or confirm you can still use your current one. The difference between a comprehensive and routine eye exam is that during a comprehensive exam, your eye doctor will evaluate your overall eye health (and, in turn, the overall state of your health) in addition to correcting your vision or checking for refractive errors. For this blog, we’ll focus on what happens during your comprehensive exam.
Like most doctor visits, at the beginning of your eye exam, your eye doctor will ask for your medical history and, specifically, if you’ve experienced a recent vision problem. Then you’ll get into the eye test portion of the exam.
Types of eye exam tests
Retinal exam: To check the back of your eyes, your eye doctor may dilate your pupils and use a tool called an ophthalmoscope (it sounds much scarier than it is, trust us) to see the back of your eyes.
Eye muscle movement test: This test checks your eye’s alignment. Your eye doctor will watch your eyes move while you follow a target (such as their finger) as it moves in different directions.
Cover test: This test checks up on how well your eyes work together. You’ll stare at a target far away, like on a wall. Your eye doctor will cover and uncover each eye to see how much your eyes move and if your eyes move away from the target.
Visual acuity test: For this test, you’ll sit in front of those classic eye charts with letters that get smaller as you read each line. You’ll cover one eye, read aloud until you can’t read the letters anymore, then repeat with the opposite eye covered.
Refraction testing: This test will determine your exact lens prescription. Your eye doctor will flip a phoropter, or an instrument used to test individual lenses, back and forth and ask you which setting is better or more clear.
Sit lamp check: This device lights up the front of your eye so your eye doctor can get a magnified look into your eyes and check for certain eye conditions.
Glaucoma testing: There are two ways to test for glaucoma, or an eye condition that causes blindness. You might experience a tonometer test, in which your eye doctor touches the surface of your eyes to measure pressure after you receive numbing eye drops. Or you might receive the “puff of air” test, which is when you stare at a target and a machine lets out a small puff of air into each eye to measure pressure.
After your necessary tests, you’ll have some time with your eye doctor to talk about any additional concerns, like dry eye, eye injury, eye strain, or other eye problems, or ask questions you may have. If you need a prescription (whether that’s a new one or refilling an old one), your next (optional) stop would be to pick out your new pair of glasses or order contacts with your eye clinic’s optician.
Shopping for glasses at your local eye clinic means you’ll be able to receive personalized service, high-quality glasses you can see (and try on!). Plus, you can take advantage of the slew of customizable features (like progressive lenses) you may not be able to find while shopping online. Where you decide to shop for glasses is ultimately up to you — but we made a pros and cons list for you just in case you needed it.
How much an eye exam costs
The cost of your eye exam can vary, depending on where you go and if you have vision insurance. Without vision insurance, your comprehensive eye exam can cost anywhere from $128-181 — not including the cost of glasses or contacts. But with a vision plan, the savings can be pretty eye-opening!
Still wondering if vision insurance is worth it? We crunched the numbers for you here.
How often you should get an eye exam
A rule of thumb is to get your vision checked once a year, especially if you have vision problems. And if you have vision insurance, most plans will cover one comprehensive eye exam per year.
There are a number of factors that could determine if you need an eye exam more or less frequently, like age, health, family history of vision problems, if you’re a LASIK candidate, and more. But don’t worry — your eye doctor will let you know when they’d like to see you next, so you don’t have to guess.
What to expect at your child’s eye exam
If you have a child, you might be wondering what to expect. Pediatric eye exams are pretty similar to an adult’s, so let’s break it down.
Their eye doctor (or pediatric ophthalmologist) will examine the front part of your child’s eyes during their pediatric eye exam, including the eyelids, cornea (the clear covering over the front of their eyes), and lens. Next, your eye doctor will dilate your child’s eyes. Eye examinations are generally nothing to be afraid of, but this part might be uncomfortable for them, as the drops may sting for a moment. (And after the appointment, your child may be sensitive to light and find it difficult to read.)
After the drops are in, your child’s eye exam will typically include three different tests.
A vision test, to test how well your child sees at different distances. This is calculated using a standard eye chart with letters or shapes.
A pupil test, which is done by shining a bright light in each eye to see if the pupils react normally.
An eye movement test, in which your eye doctor moves a finger or object in different directions to see how your child follows it.
Usually, your eye doctor will also provide you and your child with age-appropriate eyecare advice on how to keep their eyes safe from eye injury and eye disease. This education and encouragement is also helpful for children to learn just how important their eyes are — and take these practices long into adulthood.
If your child needs glasses or contacts, ordering them is your next step following the eye appointment. (And we’re betting it’ll be their favorite one.)
When it comes to maintaining your overall health and wellness, we hope it’s clear that prioritizing your comprehensive eye exam is key. And if nothing else, we hope the excitement of picking out a new pair of frames is enough to bring you back year after year.