Eye examinations

An eye examination is not just a check to see if you need glasses, it is an essential check of the health of your eyes.

A male eye specialist visits a female patient with optometry equipment

What happens in an eye test?

When you go for your eye test you should take with you any glasses that you wear, the names of any tablets or medicine you are taking and the name of your doctor. Eye tests should normally include the following but the order may vary:

Discuss the reason for your visit

It may be a routine eye test, you may have specific problems with your eyes and vision, or you may have been sent by your GP. Special demands on your eyes created by work and hobbies may also need to be addressed. The optometrist may also want to know about your general health and health of your family, including if someone in your family has an eye condition.

Checking your eye sight

You will be asked to read letters on a chart. For those who are not able to read, there are other tests such as identifying pictures or matching letters and pictures.

  • Checking your outer eye: A light will be shone on the front of your eyes to check their health and how well they react to light.
  • Checking your inner eye: An ophthalmoscope is used to check the back of the eyes. The light of the ophthalmoscope will be shone into your eyes to check their health and you will be asked to look in different directions.
  • Checking your eye muscles: Your optometrist will check that the muscles that control your eye movement are working well.
  • Checking to see if you need glasses: If you need glasses to improve your vision, the optometrist will work out exactly what prescription you need. They may shine a light in your eyes and then ask you to look at letters or colours on a chart through various lenses in a special frame or machine.

At the end of your eye test

Your optometrist should discuss your eye test results and your eye health with you. If you don't need glasses then the optometrist will give you a statement that says this. If you do need glasses then they must provide you with a prescription for your glasses. This prescription can be used to buy glasses at any optometrist's practice, not just the one where you had your test.

If you need extra help to get your eye test

If you are housebound, you should find out about having your eyes tested at home. Your local Primary Care Trust (PCT) will have details of optometrists providing this service. People who have problems with language, with communicating or with understanding are entitled to an eye test, but may need more than one visit to the optometrist. Check that all of the parts of the eye test have been done.

Additional examinations

Extra tests can ensure early detection. Some people may be at higher risk of eye diseases like glaucoma and diabetic eye disease. 

  • Are you over 40 years old? (people over 40 are more at risk of developing glaucoma)
  • Do you have a close relative with glaucoma? (people who have or have had a close relative with glaucoma are more at risk of developing glaucoma themselves)
  • Are you of African or Caribbean origin? (people of African or Caribbean origin are more at risk of developing glaucoma, and at a younger age.) 
  • Do you have diabetes? Diabetes can cause eye problems that may lead to sight loss if not treated. You should ask about the tests below and also about dilating eye drops. 

If you answer 'yes' to any of these, you should ask for:

  • The inner and outer eye tests.
  • The field of vision test.
  • The eye pressure test.

It's important to ask for all these tests. Together they detect signs of glaucoma more effectively than only one or two tests. When you make your appointment tell the optometrist that you will need these extra tests.

The field of vision test

There are various different machines (most are computerised) that measure the field of vision. These tell how far around you can see. You will be shown patterns of lights and asked to say which ones you can see. Each eye will be tested separately. This test can help to detect glaucoma and other problems.

The eye pressure test

An increase in eye pressure may be a sign of glaucoma. There are two ways to test the pressure. One uses eye drops to numb your eyes for a short while and then placing an instrument on the front of your eyes, and the other involves blowing at least three puffs of air at the front of each eye. Neither test hurts.

Dilating eye drops: If the optometrist needs to see the back of your eye more closely, drops will be put in your eyes that make your pupils larger. It takes up to half an hour for the drops to work properly. Some people find the drops make their eyes dazzled or their sight blurred. You should not drive or use heavy machinery for a few hours after the drops.

Referral after your eye examination

After your eye check, further exploration may be required and the high street optometrist may refer you to hospital for a further check by a clinician.

Further help and support

Action for Blind People, part of the RNIB Group, has a team of professionals to answer your questions, talk through your concerns, and provide reassurance and support  on your eye care journey. You can contact us through the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or contact your local Action team.

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