The Basics of Eye Exams

Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH

Everyone should get routine eye exams — even if you think your peepers are in tip-top shape. Here’s why.

Regular eye care exams are crucial for maintaining good eyesight and eye health. Many eye diseases and conditions do not have obvious signs or symptoms, especially in the early stages. This makes getting an early diagnosis vital — so that you can get proper treatment and potentially save your eyesight.

A comprehensive eye care exam will include questions about your medical and family history and tests to determine acuity (how clearly the eye is seeing), refraction (how well the eye bends light), and overall eye health. Based on this information, your eye doctor will decide if you need other tests to rule out potential eye problems.

7 Questions You May Be Asked During Your Eye Exam

Your eye doctor may begin your eye care exam by asking you the following:

  • Have you noticed any eye problems or symptoms such as burning, double vision, or discharge?
  • Do you have any general health problems?
  • Do you have any specific health conditions such as diabetes?
  • Are you taking any medications?
  • Could any environmental conditions either at home or at work be affecting your vision, such as sawdust or other fine particles in the air?
  • Have you experienced any previous eye injuries?
  • Do you have a family history of eye conditions, such as glaucoma, or diseases, such as diabetes, which can affect eye health?

Some Vision Tests You Can Expect

After assessing your medical history, your eye doctor will test your visual acuity by having you read letters on an eye chart, both up close and at a distance.

Your doctor will also test how your eyes move. “The eyes should track together,” says Alberto Martinez, MD, an ophthalmologist in Bethesda, Md., and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “We also check pupils to make sure they move together.”

Your doctor will test your color vision, depth perception, and ability to focus. He will use a bright light and magnification to check your pupils, eyelids, cornea, conjunctiva (the membrane that covers your eyeball and inside your eyelid), and surrounding eye tissue.

Your pupils will be dilated to get a better view of your lens, the retina, and eye structure. A painless procedure called tonometry uses a special machine to measure the fluid pressure inside your eye to check for early signs of glaucoma.

Good Eye Care, Good Eyesight: How Often To Visit Your Eye Doctor

Eye care specialists recommend regular check-ups for eye health. Here are some rules of thumb:

  • Children who have no family history of eye disease or symptoms should have their eyes examined by their pediatrician as part of their regular well-child check-ups. Children should have their vision tested before they start school, and then every one to two years.
  • Adults who have no family history of eye disease or symptoms should have a comprehensive eye exam at least once between ages 20 and 29 and at least twice between ages 30 and 39.
  • The American Academy of Ophthalmology now recommends that adults with no symptoms or eye disease risk factors also have a baseline exam to screen for eye diseases at age 40. Between the ages of 40 and 65, adults should follow up at intervals recommended by their eye doctor, which will depend on factors evaluated at the baseline exam.
  • Adults age 65 and over should have a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years to check for eye diseases such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and cataracts.

People with a family history of eye disease or other risk factors should see their eye care doctor more frequently.

It’s important to remember that some eye diseases do not show early warning signs. So frequent screenings for eye disease and conditions can help keep your eyes healthy and preserve your eyesight.