Sight test

The eye examination

Why should I have an eye examination?

An eye examination should be part of everyone’s normal health routine and is an important part of looking after your eyes. You may think of this as just an eye test, but it’s more than a simple test of your sight. Your optometrist is able to check your eye health and other general health issues during an eye examination and give advice.

Here are some important reasons to have a regular eye examination and look after your eyes:

  • It can detect early signs of eye conditions before you notice them.
  • It can also detect other general health problems.
  • Good vision helps you work and play safely and comfortably. It leads to a better quality of life.
  • Your eyes are the only pair you’ve got. If you lose your eyesight it may never be replaced.
  • Unlike your teeth, your eyes do not usually hurt if there is something wrong.

How often should I have my eyes examined?

Most people should have their eyes examined every two years, however you may need to have an examination more often depending on your age and medical history. If you are over 40 years old or at particular risk of developing eye conditions such as glaucoma, your optometrist will recommend how regularly you need to have an eye examination. Of course, if you have any problems with your eyes, or notice any changes in your sight, then you should see your optometrist too.

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 ask you:

  • if you’ve had any symptoms, how long you have had them and whether any changes have happened suddenly or slowly over a period of time
  • about your general health, including any medication you are taking
  • whether you suffer from headaches
  • whether you have any close relatives with a history of eye problems.
  • about your previous glasses or contact lenses
  • 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)
  • your retina
  • your pupil reflexes.

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.

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)
  • 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.

Eye examinations at home (domiciliary sight tests)

A domiciliary sight test is a sight test which an optometrist or ophthalmic medical practitioner (OMP) carries out in the patient’s normal home or a day centre. Optometrists or OMPs who provide domiciliary services are experienced in dealing with patients with various mental and physical disabilities. If you have  suffered a stroke, have learning disabilities or do not speak English well, you can still have an effective sight test.

NHS entitlement
If you qualify for an NHS sight test but can not get to a high street practice unaccompanied because of a mental or physical disability, you are entitled to a domiciliary sight test funded by the NHS. You can find a full list of who is eligible on the NHS Choices website for England and Wales. For Scotland visit and for Northern Ireland visit the Business Services Organisation

To book an appointment for a domiciliary eye exam, contact your local NHS or call:
• NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 if you live in England or Wales
• NHS Helpline on 0800 22 44 88 if you live in Scotland
• NHS for Northern Ireland on 0800 587 8982.

Patients do not have to buy new spectacles following a sight test, and they do not have to buy them from the optometrist or OMP who provided the sight test.

For more information, download the leaflet Sight tests at home (1MB PDF).