The Eye Exam

Who Should Get an Eye Examination

Everyone should have routine eye examinations. How often you should see your ophthalmologist or eyecare specialist depends on your age, your general health and whether you have any ongoing eye disorders.

If you are in good health and have no known eye problems and no vision problems, an exam every two to four years is adequate. The elderly should have eye examinations at least every two years because cataracts and other eye problems may develop as we age. For people with special health problems, such as diabetes, yearly eye examinations are necessary to maintain good eye health. Finally, anyone with known eye problems, such as glaucoma, will need to see their ophthalmologist on an ongoing basis. Because vision is so related to learning, children also should have yearly eye examinations.

For a general eye exam, call the Wills Eye Cataract and Primary Eye Care Service at (215) 928-3041.

What Happens During an Eye Examination

During a routine eye examination, your ophthalmologist will test your eyesight and the health of your eyes. At this time, you should discuss any chronic illnesses you have and any medications or dietary supplements you may be taking. Even if you feel your eyesight is good, it is always helpful to have an open discussion about your family history, health problems, profession and lifestyle because these things may have an impact on your eyes now and in the future.

Your eye doctor will test your visual acuity, which is the clarity of your vision. You will probably be asked to read the letters on an eye chart. These letters vary in size, becoming increasingly smaller as you read from row to row. At some point, you will probably tell the doctor that you can't see clearly or at all. Based on this test, the doctor will be able to determine whether your visual acuity is normal or whether you are nearsighted (myopic) or farsighted (hyperopic).

The doctor will also examine your eyelids and use various lights and instruments to look into your eyes, on the eye surface and even behind the eye. Just as you have your blood pressure taken at your primary care physician's office, the ophthalmologist will use a device that measures the pressure inside your eye to check for glaucoma. At some point in the exam, your doctor will also check the muscles of your eyes.

None of the tests used during a routine eye examination are painful or uncomfortable. There is a possibility that the doctor may use eyedrops that will dilate (widen) your pupils, which may make it difficult for your eyes to focus properly for several hours after the exam.

If your ophthalmologist believes you need to have eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct your vision, you will receive a prescription for the appropriate strength based on your exam. However, most ophthalmology services, including ours at Wills Eye, have an on-site shop on the 12th floor where you can pick out the eyeglasses or contact lens types that meet your needs.