What happens in an eye examination

What happens in an eye examination?

An eye examination is carried out by an optometrist and usually takes about 20-30 minutes. Sometimes it can take longer if you need extra tests, but this is to make sure you can see as well as possible.

As well as testing your sight, the optometrist will check the health of your eyes and look for signs of general health problems.

Here is what’s usually involved:

History and symptoms

At the start of the eye examination, your optometrist will ask why you are having your eyes examined, whether it is a routine check-up or if you have come for a specific reason.

If you are experiencing problems with your eyes or vision, your optometrist will need to know what symptoms you have, how long you have had them and whether any changes have happened suddenly or slowly over a period of time. They will also ask you about your general health including any medication you are taking, whether you suffer from headaches, or have any close relatives with a history of eye problems. You will be asked about your previous glasses or contact lenses and they may also ask about the kind of work you do and whether you play sports or have any hobbies.

Examining your eyes

Your optometrist will examine both the outside and inside of your eyes. This will allow the optometrist to assess the health of your eyes and may identify any other underlying medical problems.

The inside of your eyes will be examined using an ophthalmoscope, which is a special torch, or with a slit lamp and a hand held lens in front of your eye. These instruments will allow your optometrist to examine structures such as the lens inside your eye, to see if you have signs of cataract, your optic nerve where it enters your eye (which is where signs of glaucoma may be spotted), and your retina. Your pupil reflexes will also be tested.

They will also ask you to read letters on a chart, which is one of the most familiar parts of an eye examination.

Many optometrists now offer extra tests, such as photography of the interior and exterior of the eye, for which an additional charge may be made. Extra tests are also needed for contact lens fitting and check-ups.

The menu on the left gives more information about some of the tests. Ask your optometrist if you have any questions.


Remember to take your glasses or contact lenses with you when you attend an eye examination. Your vision will be measured both with and without glasses or lenses to check for any problems with your eyesight. The optometrist would normally assess your distance vision (for TV and driving), your near vision (for reading and close work) and your intermediate vision (for computer use).

Your optometrist will then carry out a series of tests to measure the type and extent of any problem with your vision. You will then be asked to choose between different lenses to see which ones help the quality and clarity of your sight.

Eye movements and co-ordination

Eye movements and co-ordination are checked to make sure that both eyes are working together, and that undue stress is not being placed on the eye muscles. Good muscle balance is particularly important if you use computers or read a lot.

After the eye examination

Your optometrist will now have detailed knowledge of the health of your eyes, the standard of your vision and any special requirements that you may have. At the end of the examination you will be advised of when you should have your next examination and you’ll also be given a prescription for glasses or contact lenses, or a statement which confirms that your eyes don’t need correction. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if there is something you don’t understand, your optometrist is there to help.

You will also be able to discuss the best form of vision correction to suit your individual lifestyle and visual needs with either your optometrist or dispensing optician.

If you need medical treatment for an eye condition you may be referred to your doctor or hospital.

Choosing glasses or contact lenses

After your prescription is made up, you will be given help in choosing glasses or contact lenses.

If you wish to have glasses, then the optometrist or dispensing optician will advise you on the best type of frame for your needs and prescription. As part of continuing care and service your optometrist will be happy to adjust or make minor repairs to your glasses where possible.

If you don’t want to wear glasses, contact lenses may be an option, either to wear on a regular or occasional basis. If you would like to try contact lenses, your optometrist will be able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages with you, and fit these. If you wish to be fitted with contact lenses you may need to return to the practice for a separate appointment to be fitted with them, as well as to be taught how to handle and look after them.

If you are not satisfied with your glasses or contact lenses make sure that you contact your practice. The College of Optometrists advises you to be careful about buying glasses or contact lenses from somewhere different to where your eyes were tested – if you have any problems, it can be harder for them to be sorted out.

Most optometrists will send you a reminder when your next appointment is due. However, if you have a problem with your vision or your eyes before your next eye examination is due do not wait – contact the practice and make an appointment.