Whether you need glasses or not, getting a routine eye exam annually is important for monitoring the health of your eyes. An eye doctor can detect certain eye health issues and diseases before a patient ever has symptoms.
An optometrist or ophthalmologist can perform a routine eye exam. Both are able to check your vision and test for, as well as diagnose, eye diseases.
During a typical eye exam, a doctor will usually perform an eye muscle movement test, where they watch your eyes as you follow their finger or pen, for example, as it moves in different directions. They will also perform simple tests to see how well your eyes work together. The eye chart test will determine your visual acuity or how well you see. The doctor will also test your peripheral vision and how your pupils react to light. They will also check the outside of the eye, and may test for color vision deficiencies and depth perception.
An eye doctor will also check for any abnormal pressure in the eyes, which can indicate glaucoma. This is usually done one of two ways: with a tool called an applanation tonometer, or with a machine that emits a small puff of air into each eye.
To test for issues inside the eye, the eyes may be dilated. The doctor or technician will put some drops in the eyes and then you will wait approximately 20-30 minutes for the pupils to fully dilate. Your vision will be blurry and sensitive to light while the eyes are dilated. The effect may last for 2-4 hours, so you will need sunglasses outside and you may not be able to read or see things clearly close up for a while.
Once the eyes are dilated, the eye doctor will use a special machine to examine the retina, the retinal blood vessels, and the optic nerve to make sure everything looks normal. They may take an image to use for future appointments to make sure there are no changes.
If you need glasses, your doctor will give you your eye prescription and PD (pupillary distance) at the end of your visit. The average lifespan for a pair of glasses is about two years. Many insurance plans cover an annual eye exam and a pair of standard glasses. If you break your glasses, you have to replace them at full price. Online sites like Zenni offer eyewear, including prescription sunglasses, at a fraction of the cost of what you’d spend at an optometrist’s office. While Zenni doesn’t work with insurance companies directly, you can submit a claim to your insurance provider yourself depending on your plan’s coverage. You can also use funds from your FSA to purchase glasses.
Even if you don’t have problems with your vision, it’s important to routinely get your eyes checked at least every 1-2 years to make sure you don’t have any eye health issues.