The Importance of An Eye Exam

Why You Need An Eye Exam

The end of the year is fast approaching – when was the last time you had an eye exam? Was it a comprehensive eye exam?
eye exam
To keep your eyes healthy and maintain your vision, the American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends a comprehensive eye exam every two years for adults ages 18 to 60, and annual exams for people age 61 and older. However, if you have a family history of eye disease (glaucoma, macular degeneration, etc.), diabetes or high blood pressure, or have had an eye injury or surgery, you should have a comprehensive exam every year, unless otherwise indicated by your doctor.
Also, adults who wear contact lenses should have annual eye exams.

An important part of the comprehensive eye exam is the dilated eye exam to look inside your eye. Drops are placed in each eye to widen the pupil and allow more light to enter the eye. This gives your doctor a clear view of important tissues at the back of the eye, including the retina, the macula, and the optic nerve. This allows for early diagnosis of sight-threatening eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, etc.

To better understand the importance of the dilated eye exam, here is a video from the National Eye Institute (NE) that explains what to expect.

At the end of your comprehensive eye exam your doctor should raise any concerns he has with you. But it is up to you to be prepared to react and ask questions for peace of mind and to help save your vision.

Questions To Ask After Your Eye Exam

It is always important to know if anything about your eyes have changed since your last visit. If the doctor says no, then the only thing you need to know is when they want to see you again.

If the doctor says the have been some minor changes, you need to know what questions to ask, such as:

  • Is my condition stable, or can I lose more sight?
  • What new symptoms should I watch out for?
  • Is there anything I can do to improve or help my vision?
  • When is the next time you want to see me?

If the doctor sees a marked change in your vision or give you a diagnosis of eye disease, you would want to ask:

  • Are there treatments for my eye disease?
  • When should I start treatment and how long will it last?
  • What are the benefits of this treatment and how successful is it?
  • What are the risks and possible side effects associated with this treatment?
  • Are there any foods, medications, or activities I should avoid while I am undergoing this treatment?
  • If I need to take medication, what should I do if I miss a dose or have a reaction?
  • Are there any other treatments available?
  • Will I need more tests necessary later?
  • How often should I schedule follow-up visits? Should I be monitored on a regular basis?
  • Am I still safe to drive?

Your vision is a terrible thing to lose, but with proper diet, exercise and no smoking, along with regularly scheduled eye exams, you improve your chances of maintaining your sight.


Susan DeRemerSusan DeRemer, CFRE
Vice President of Development
Discovery Eye Foundation

Your Comprehensive Eye Exam

Your Comprehensive Eye Exam

Being able to see clearly is important to all of us. But it is also something we have a tendency to take for granted until we notice changes in our vision. The point of the yearly comprehensive exam is to monitor your eyes before any problems arise, and address any concerns that could affect your vision later. Here is what to expect at your next comprehensive eye exam.

An eye exam involves an external examination of your eyes followed by a series of tests designed to evaluate your vision and check for eye diseases. Each test evaluates a different aspect of your vision and includes specific tests for visual acuity, pupil function, muscle function, visual fields, eye pressure and viewing the back of the eye through a dilated pupil.
cross section of eye - eye exam
External Exam
The external examination consists of inspecting the eyelids, surrounding tissues and the eyeball including the sclera (white part of the eye), iris and cornea.

Visual Acuity & Fields
Visual acuity is your eye’s ability to detect fine details and see an in-focus image at a certain distance. A Snellen chart and a phoropter are used. The standard definition of normal visual acuity is 20/20. The term 20/20 comes from even sized objects that can be seen by a “person of normal vision” atvisual acuity eye exam the specified distance. For example, if a person can see at a distance of 20 feet an object that normally can be seen at 20 feet, then they have 20/20 vision. If they can see at 20 feet what a normal person can see at 40 feet, then they have 20/40 vision. For the visual acuity test each eye is tested separately to gauge your side or peripheral vision.

Pupil Functionpupil function eye exam
An examination of the pupil begins with inspecting your pupils for equal size, regular shape, reaction to light, and direct and consensual reaction (meaning the pupil of one eye constricts when the other eye is exposed to light).

Eye Muscle Function
Eye movement is assessed two ways. First by having you move your eye quickly to a target at the far right, left, top and bottom. Then by slow tracking which uses the ‘follow my finger’ test, which tests all the muscles that move your eye.

tonometer eye examEye Pressure Measurement
Intraocular pressure, or IOP, is measured using a tonometer to determine the fluid pressure inside your eye. This test provides information regarding your potential for glaucoma.

Viewing the Back of the Eyedilated eye - eye exam
Increasing the size of your pupil with eye drops (known as dilating your eyes) allows the doctor to have a larger view of the back of your eye, including the retina, as demonstrated by this diagram. This is very important for diagnosis and tracking of macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

Eye Structureslit lamp eye exam
A special, high-powered microscope, called a slit-lamp, is used to view the structures of your eye clearly and in detail, enabling early diagnosis of a variety of eye conditions such as cataracts, presbyopia and corneal injury.

Taking care of your eyes, especially as you become older, is very important. Changes in vision may be gradual, or fast, but in both cases, early diagnosis is key to successful treatment and retaining your vision. It is suggested that individuals 40 and over have a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years. Exceptions would be if you have diabetes, in which case you should see your eye doctor yearly; or there is a family history of eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, or corneal diseases, which may require more frequent visits to your eye doctor. If you have any degree of sudden vision loss, eye pain, or significant irritation, contact your eye doctor immediately.


Susan DeRemerSusan DeRemer, CFRE
Vice President of Development
Discovery Eye Foundation