Standard Ophthalmic Exam

Written by Jennifer Nelson | Published on August 7, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is a Standard Ophthalmic Exam?

A standard ophthalmic exam is a comprehensive series of tests done by an ophthalmologist, a doctor specializing in eye health, to check both your vision and the health of your eyes.

How Is an Ophthalmic Exam Performed?

The doctor will take a complete eye history including your vision problems, your glasses-wearing or contact lenses-wearing habits, your overall health, family history, and current medications.

Your vision will be checked with a refraction test. A refraction test is an eye exam where you look through a device with different lenses at an eye chart 20 feet away to help determine any vision deficits.

Your eyes will also be dilated with eye drops to make pupils larger so the doctor can view the back of the eye. Other parts of the exam may include checking your three-dimensional vision (stereopsis), checking your peripheral vision to see how well you see out outside of your direct focus, and checking the health of your eye muscles.

Other tests include:

  • examination of your pupils with a light to see if they respond properly
  • examination of your retina with a lighted magnifying lens to see the health of blood vessels and the optic nerve
  • a slit lamp test, which uses another lighted magnifying device to check the eyelid, cornea, conjunctiva (thin membrane covering the whites of the eyes), and iris for problems
  • tonometry (a test for glaucoma in which a painless puff of air is directed at your eye to measure pressure of the fluid within your eye)
  • a colorblindness test (you look at circles of multicolored dots with numbers, symbols, or shapes in them)

How to Prepare for the Test

There is no special preparation needed prior to the test. After the exam, you may need someone to drive you home if your eyes have been dilated and your vision has not yet returned to normal. Bring sunglasses—after dilation, your eyes will be very light sensitive. If you don’t have sunglasses, the doctor’s office will provide you with something to protect your eyes (but it won’t be very stylish).

Who Should Have an Ophthalmic Exam?

Regular eye exams help detect eye problems early and can help maintain proper vision and prevent vision changes. People with diabetes should have their eyes examined annually. People who wear contact lenses will also need a yearly exam. Those with other health or eye problems or a family history of eye diseases should see their doctor more frequently. Certain professions also need an ophthalmic exam regularly, including pilots, racecar drivers, and those in the military.

Interpreting Results

Normal results mean that nothing abnormal was detected during your exam. You likely:

  • have 20/20 (normal) vision
  • can differentiate colors
  • have no signs of glaucoma
  • have no other abnormalities with the optic nerve, retina, and eye muscles
  • have no other signs of eye disease or conditions

Abnormal results mean that something was detected in your tests that indicate a problem or a condition that may need treatment, including:

  • vision impairment which requires corrective eyeglasses or contact lenses (not 20/20 vision)
  • astigmatism (a condition that causes blurry vision due to the shape of the cornea for which you may need corrective lenses or contact lenses)
  • a blocked tear duct (blockage of the system that carries tears away and causes excess tearing)
  • lazy eye (caused when the brain and eyes do not work together, common in children)
  • strabismus (a condition in which the eyes don’t align properly, also common in children)
  • infection
  • trauma

More-serious problems include:

  • age-related macular degeneration (ARMD, a serious condition that damages the retina, making it difficult to see details)
  • cataracts (a clouding of the lens with age that affects vision)
  • corneal abrasion (a scratch on the cornea that may cause blurry vision or discomfort)
  • damaged nerves or blood vessels
  • diabetes-related damage (called diabetic retinopathy)
  • glaucoma

How Often Should You a Have Standard Ophthalmic Exam?

Types of people being tested, and how often they should get standard ophthalmic test:

  • Children: After they learn alphabet, every 1 to 2 years
  • Adults between 20-39: Every 5 to 10 years
  • Contact lens wearers: Yearly
  • Those with eye disorders or diabetes: Yearly
  • Adults over 40 with no risk factors: Every 2 to 4 years
  • Adults 55 to 64 with no risk factors: Every 1 to 3 years
  • Adults 65 and older: Yearly

Those who have any eye disorders should check with their doctor about frequency of exams.

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