What to Expect at Your First Eye Exam

Regular visits to an eye doctor are an important part of maintaining your health, but many people don't start going until they notice a problem. If you are an adult going to your first eye exam, your first appointment with a new eye doctor, or your first visit in a long time, here is what you can expect.

Medical History

To start, you will be asked for your medical history, either through a paper or electronic questionnaire or in person. This questionnaire can be quite detailed and includes your family medical history. It will ask particularly about chronic conditions, like diabetes or heart disease, even if they don't relate directly to your eyes. Double-check your family's medical history before you go. Knowing what conditions are in your family can help the doctors know what you might be at risk for, both for conditions that affect eyesight and for other, non-vision-related diseases that can be detected by eye exams.

You will also be asked to provide a thorough history of your eye health and care. If you have seen an ophthalmologist or optometrist in the past, it is helpful if you can obtain your records from previous doctors and bring a copy with you.

Eye Tests

Your first eye exam will include tests designed to evaluate your ocular health, check for diseases, and measure your visual acuity (quality of sight). Here are some of the tests that are often used, according to the Mayo Clinic.

  • Visual acuity test: In this common test, you will be asked to read letters on a chart. The letters range in size from large at the top to very small at the bottom. The ability to read letters on a particular line gives a preliminary indication of what prescription you might need for vision correction.
  • Refraction assessment: If your visual acuity test indicates that you would benefit from vision correction, the doctor will have you continue to look at the letters through refractive lenses. These lenses are similar to the lenses in glasses, and the doctor can check a variety of options to see which are best for your eyes.
  • Manual vision field testing: The brain is very good at filling in any blank spots in your vision; this test is designed to find them. A light will flash on a screen and you press a button if you can see it; doing this repeatedly in different spots generates a map of the blanks in your vision.
  • Slit-lamp examination: The slit lamp shines a bright but painless light into one eye. It allows the doctor to examine your eye through a magnifying glass to check for abnormalities that can indicate diseases.
  • Indirect ophthalmoscopy: A test to look at the inside back of your eye. Similar to the slit-lamp examination, the doctor uses an instrument worn on her head and directs the light through a lens held close to your eye.
  • Applanation tonometry: The doctor analyzes the pressure of your eye by measuring how much force is required to flatten a section of the cornea, using a small rod with a flattened cone at the tip. It contacts the eye gently and is not painful. This test evaluates your risk for glaucoma. Alternately, a puff of air may be used; this is call noncontact tonometry and is surprising, but also painless.

With these tests, your doctor can fully evaluate the health of your eyes. After your first eye exam, be sure to go regularly—checking your eyes is just as important as a normal checkup.

For questions or comments, contact Woodhams Eye Clinic.