The importance of visual health cannot be emphasized too much. Unfortunately, many people take their visual health for granted, whether by engaging in risky activities that pose a safety hazard or simply failing to have their eyes checked regularly by an optometrist.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take much effort to get started on caring for your eyes. Simply schedule an eye exam and you’ll be on your way to better understand your eyes and addressing any vision problems or eye conditions you might have.
What Is an Eye Exam and Why Do You Need One?
Eye exams are comprehensive checks performed by eye-care professionals to evaluate the overall status of a patient’s visual acuity and visual health. These eye care professionals include ophthalmologists and optometrists.
An eye exam is done using different types and levels of tests with the primary purpose of determining if a patient has a vision problem or eye disease and, if so, what treatment or control methods are needed to manage the condition.
Scheduling regular eye exams and getting checked as soon as you notice a symptom helps with detecting eye problems in their early stages, which is when they are most easily treatable.
Who Should Undergo an Eye Exam and When?
Eye exams are not just for aging adults who tend to have more eye problems than younger people. In fact, more and more individuals today are experiencing vision problems, the most common of which is myopia (nearsightedness).
According to the Vision Council of America, about 75% of adults use some form of vision correction method: 64% wear eyeglasses while 11% wear contact lenses. However, those figures do not cover people who actually need vision correction but haven’t pursued it.
Why are some people not getting the vision correction they need? The likeliest reason is that they are unaware that they need it because they don’t undergo regular eye checks.
Everyone, regardless of age, should visit an eye doctor for a checkup:
- Children five years and below: Kids aged three and below should be checked for symptoms of lazy eye, crossed eyes and turned-out eyes. Meanwhile, children aged three to five can be examined for signs of myopia.
- School-aged children and adolescents: If your child is about to enter first grade, it’s best to have their eyes checked for vision problems. Vision problems may interfere with their studies and activities at school, so they need to get proper vision correction and eye treatment. From there, they should have regular eye exams every year or two until adolescence.
- Adults aged 20 to 39: Getting eye exams every 5 to 10 years is recommended.
- Adults aged 40 to 54: Getting eye exams every 2 to 4 years is recommended.
- Adults aged 55 to 64: Getting eye exams every 1 to 3 years is recommended.
- Adults aged 65 and above: Getting eye exams every 1 to 2 years is recommended.
Aside from the recommendations above, you should also consider getting checked more often if:
- You already wear eyeglasses or contact lenses.
- You have a family history of eye and vision problems.
- You have a health problem or disease known to affect eye health, such as diabetes.
How Are Eye Exams Done?
A comprehensive eye exam consists of different tests, all designed to identify underlying vision problems and eye conditions.
You can expect your eye doctor to perform all or some of the following:
- Visual acuity test – In this test, you will be asked to read letters on a standardized chart called the Snellen chart. This determines if you have the ideal 20/20 vision or not.
- Color blindness test – This test uses images composed of colored dots in a pattern that may make them seem isochromatic, yet are really pseudochromatic. If the patient is able to distinguish the varying colors, they will pass this test.
- Cover test – In this test, one of the eyes is covered while the uncovered eye is checked for any shift in fixation.
- Eye movement test – Also known as the ocular motility test, this exam assesses the movement and alignment of the eyes, determining how well the eyes can follow a moving object.
- Depth perception test – Also called stereopsis, it determines how well a person can see dimensions of objects. It is done by having the patient wear 3D glasses and look at a booklet of images, then having them determine which is the closest object in the pattern.
- Retinoscopy – This is used to get an approximation of a patient’s needed prescription. The lights in the room will be dimmed and the patient will be asked to focus on the big E on the Snellen chart. The doctor will then shine a light at the eye and flip lenses to determine which lens power is best for the patient.
- Refraction exam – This test determines the exact eyeglass or contact lens prescription one should have. With a phoropter, an eye doctor presents a patient with different lens choices until the clearest and most comfortable combination is found.
- Pupil dilation – In this test, dilating drops are used to enlarge the pupils. This helps the eye doctor get a better view of the eye’s internal structures.
- Visual field test – This test is employed to determine if blind spots or scotomas are present.
A comprehensive eye exam is critical to determining your eyes’ current condition. To make the most of one, make sure you schedule an eye exam with a trusted and reliable eye care practice in your area.
Dr. Vasvi Babu is one of the co-founders of 20/20 Image Eye Centers. Born and raised in a Chicago suburb, she completed her residency in ocular disease at the renowned Illinois Eye Institute. In practice since 1993, she specializes in the treatment and management of various eye diseases and conditions, including glaucoma and dry eyes, and is a member of the American and Arizona Optometric Associations. Check out the 20/20 Image Eye Centers blog for updates from Dr. Babu!