A standard ophthalmic exam is a comprehensive series of tests done by an ophthalmologist. An ophthalmologist is a doctor who specializes in eye health. These tests check both your vision and the health of your eyes.

According to the Mayo Clinic, children should undergo their first exam between the ages of three and five. Children should also get their eyes checked before they begin first grade and should continue to get eye exams every one to two years. Adults with no vision problems should have their eyes checked every five to 10 years. Beginning at age 40, adults should have an ophthalmic exam every two to four years. After age 65, get an exam yearly (or more if you have any issues with your eyes or vision).

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

There’s no special preparation needed prior to the test. After the exam, you may need someone to drive you home if your doctor dilated your eyes and your vision hasn’t yet returned to normal. Bring sunglasses to your exam; 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.

Your doctor will take a complete eye history including your vision problems, any corrective methods you have (e.g., glasses or contact lenses), your overall health, family history, and current medications.

They’ll use a refraction test to check your vision. A refraction test is when you look through a device with different lenses at an eye chart 20 feet away to help determine any vision difficulties.

They’ll also dilate your eyes with eye drops to make pupils larger. This helps your doctor 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 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 your optic nerve
  • a slit lamp test, which uses another lighted magnifying device to check your eyelid, cornea, conjunctiva (thin membrane covering the whites of the eyes), and iris
  • tonometry, a glaucoma test in which a painless puff of air blows at your eye to measure the pressure of the fluid within your eye
  • a colorblindness test, in which you look at circles of multicolored dots with numbers, symbols, or shapes in them

Normal results mean that your doctor detected nothing abnormal during your exam. Normal results indicate that you:

  • 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 your doctor detected a problem or a condition that may need treatment, including:

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

Your test may also reveal more serious conditions. These can include

  • Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). This is a serious condition that damages the retina, making it difficult to see details.
  • Cataracts, or a clouding of the lens with age that affects vision, are also a common condition.

Your doctor may also discover a corneal abrasion (a scratch on the cornea that may cause blurry vision or discomfort), damaged nerves or blood vessels, diabetes-related damage (diabetic retinopathy), or glaucoma.