What to Expect at Your Eye Exam

What to expect at your eye exam

Wondering what to expect at your eye exam? An eye exam is a check-up of your eyes. Your eye doctor will check your health history, look at your eyes, and perform some simple tests to see how well your eyes are working. Based on your test results, your eye doctor may have some recommendations for products, like glasses or contacts, for you.

Some people may be nervous before getting an eye exam for the first time, but this article will walk you through what to expect at your eye exam—and provide some tips for a successful visit.

What to Expect at Your Eye Exam: An Overview

Visiting any doctor can sometimes create anxiety, especially if you are not sure what to expect. You might have questions about what to expect at your eye exam such as: What are they going to do? Does an eye exam going to hurt? Are they going to poke me or put drops in my eyes? What are they going to find? Will I have to wear glasses for the rest of my life?

Fortunately, visiting an eye doctor for an eye exam is not painful and it will not hurt. More importantly, getting regular eye check-ups is an important step for your overall health. Your eyes are often one of the first indicators when something is wrong in the body, so regular eye checks not only help keep your eyes healthy, but all of you healthy too.

To help you know what to expect at your eye exam and make the visit a successful one, here are some tips about how to prepare and what to expect.

Preparing For Your Visit

Before you schedule your eye exam, it can be helpful to do a little preparation ahead of time. You may want to:

1. Research the office

Make sure that you research the doctor, their team, and how they go about their business. For instance, you can visit the office’s website to learn more about the background of the doctors and staff and look at their pictures. You may also find pictures demonstrating the design of the office as well.

2. Choose a chain vs. private eye doctor

Choosing a chain eye doctor vs. a private practice means considering the pros and cons to you and your family. For instance, in a corporate chain, there tends to be a hierarchy in management that you can utilize if the store doesn’t take care of you properly.

A private practice, on the other hand, tends to be more individualized and attentive. Your eye doctor may be more invested in securing your long-term care since their income is directly affected by your ongoing experience and referrals.

Choosing a private eye doctor

3. Consider the team

Next, you may want to check if there is a team of doctors, or if you will be seeing the same doctor every time you go in. Some people may prefer the continuity of care that seeing the same doctor every time can provide. If there is a team, it can be helpful to research and read reviews about the entire optical team as well.

Remember, the doctor may be the nicest person who can write up the best prescription in the world, but if the team that they work with does not take correct measurements or treat you poorly, your vision and overall experience may not be to your satisfaction.

Eye doctor team

4. Talk to current patients

Another simple method to research the doctor and their team is to ask people who did visit. Current or past patients can tell you if the office has a certain “vibe,” such as helpful, friendly, family-oriented on the good side or pushy, rude, and “like a conveyor belt” on the bad. Previous customers usually have a feeling one way or the other about their visit.

What Happens During the Exam?

After you pick the best office and optical team that seems best for you, you can call or use online booking to schedule your appointment. One perk of what to expect at your eye exam is that unlike some other medical appointments, you will not find yourself waiting for any more than 5-15 minutes for your scheduled eye appointment unless there happens to be an emergent eye issue ahead of you.

When you arrive, you will check in with the receptionist. If your eye doctor has an online portal, you could fill in your health history ahead of time virtually. If not, you will need to fill out your paperwork when you arrive. This will include:

  • Your eye and health history
  • Current list of medication and supplements
  • Any allergies you have
  • Your family history
  • Insurance information

It is important for the doctor to know this information to determine how to orient the exam and to help develop continuity of care with other health professionals that you work with. Next, you will be taken through the first part of the eye exam.

Online booking eye doctor

Eye Tests

The first part of your eye exam is usually a series of optical tests. These tests will all be quick, simple, and painless (no needles). They may be conducted by an optical technician or the doctor.

The tests usually involve looking into a machine at a series of lights or images. The technician may also use a small puff of air in your eye to see how a reflection reacts on the front of your eye. The machines will do such things as:

  • Measure your current glasses prescription
  • Estimate your new eyeglass prescription
  • Check your eye pressure and shock absorbency
  • Measure the shape of your eye
  • Take pictures of your retina and optic nerve
  • Get microscopic imagery of the back of your eye

All of these tests are important in helping the doctor to determine your prescriptions and the health of your eye.

Your Visit with the Eye Doctor

What to expect at your eye exam next? After your tests, you will go to the doctor’s exam room, where they will discuss your health history and ask questions to help them understand the full reason for your visit.

For example, you may say, “I am here because my vision is getting worse.” But in order to get the full picture of what is going on, the doctor may ask follow-up questions such as:

  • How long has this been going on?
  • Is it blurry in one eye or both?
  • Is it blurry at a far distance, or on your computer, or while you are reading a book, or is it equally blurry for all distances?
  • Has it progressively been getting worse, or did it come on suddenly?

The doctor will review all of the information that they gathered, and perhaps perform some additional simple and painless tests to better understand your problem. Typically, these tests will include:

An Eye Exam Eye Chart

You probably recognize this one—this test involves the doctor having you read letters on a chart to determine your visual acuity.

This acuity measurement is a baseline for understanding how well a person can see in comparison to other people who are considered to have “normal healthy vision.” Normal vision is at 20/20.

Eye exam chart

Eye Lenses Check

After the doctor obtains your acuity, they will then put different lenses in front of your eyes to figure out your prescription. The doctor will show you one lens and ask you to compare to different levels. It’s important when doing this test that you give the doctor your first impression.

For instance, the doctor does not want you to take time to focus (with your eye’s focus muscles) on each lens change. If you focus each time, you will surely throw off the final reading. So, to make sure you don’t throw off the reading, the doctor gives quick comparisons. And, when you can’t tell the difference between the two blurry images, just tell the doctor that they look the same. Believe it or not, the tougher it is for you to tell two images apart, the closer the doctor is to honing in on your prescription.

This is not the only way they test your prescription, however—based on the entire eye exam, by the doctor has about 90-95% of your prescription already figured out. That is how doctors can write prescriptions for unresponsive patients such as young children. (Kids can’t trick the doctor, because the doctor knows ahead of time the basic realm of the necessary prescription!).

Eye Inspection

After the prescription is determined, the doctor will shine bright lights into the eye to fully inspect the health and condition of your eye. The lights are accompanied by high degrees of magnification from the doctor’s viewpoint so that they can see the tiniest of detail in your eye. Don’t worry—bright light is not harmful to the eye.

Sometimes, a dilated exam is performed at this point in the exam as well. Dilation requires drops to be put in the eyes so that the pupils will not constrict (get small) when light is shined into them. A dilation is needed to see parts of the inside of the eye that a doctor cannot see under normal conditions.

Dilation eye test

If you need a dilation exam, once again, bright lights and magnifiers will be pointed toward your eye to make sure that your eye is healthy, but they will not do any harm. The drops used for this test tend to take about three hours to wear off afterwards, so make sure that you have a driver if your doctor intends to dilate. (This may be a question to ask before you come into the exam—some doctors do this routinely, while others do this on a case-by-case basis.)

The Aftermath

Wondering what to expect at your eye exam after all that testing is over? After your exam is over, the doctor should take the time to explain their findings about your eyes and your options before you leave the room. They may make suggestions, but you are allowed to guide the doctor to what you want. For instance, if you prefer contacts over glasses, spend a lot of time outside, or have trouble with remembering to change your contacts, your eye doctor may recommend different products for you (such as 1-day contacts vs. monthly options).  

If the doctor didn’t explain what you wanted to know, this is the time to ask. Once you have had your questions answered, the doctor will lead you to the frame gallery, and explain to an optician what you have decided in the doctor’s room. From there, you will either get help choosing the right glasses for you or trained in how to use contact lenses.

Click here to learn more about how to take care of your contact lenses.

If you want to take your final glasses script with you, you have the right to that as well.  However, keep in mind that if you choose contact lenses, you must finalize the fit before you have a right to that prescription. That means that at your initial eye exam, your doctor’s office will give you trial lenses to sample for a week and then bring you back in for a follow-up.

At the follow-up exam, you will discuss the pros and cons of contact lenses with the doctor to determine if the lenses are the right fit for you. Once both you and the doctor complete all necessary follow-ups, you are both satisfied with a final fit, and you have paid your bill in full, then the doctor is required (by federal law) to release your finalized contact lens script to you, whether you ask for it or not.

Visualize the Bottom Line

Hopefully, by researching the doctor and the team before you visit and by understanding the process of the exam before it is performed, you will have a better idea of what to expect at your eye exam and will not seem so overwhelming. And keep in mind that your relationship with your doctor should always be a positive one.

Keep in mind that you only benefit from an eye exam if you are helped, and they only benefit if they help you. Therefore, you should always expect a win-win relationship with your eye doctor.


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