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How Long Does an Eye Exam Take?

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A woman gets her eyes examined by an optometrist

You’ve heard it over and over, eye exams are one of the best ways to protect your vision, and it’s true! But even knowing that, it’s common to fret about how you’re going to fit one into your family’s busy schedule. The youngest has hockey and the oldest has choir—it’s enough to make you want to close your eyes and lie down forever.

The good news is eye exams don’t take that long, especially considering how effective they are at uncovering eye diseases. The average comprehensive eye exam takes about 30–60 minutes, but this can vary depending on the person. Regardless of the time it takes, the benefits of having an eye exam are worth it as they can give invaluable insight into your overall eye health and vision.

How Often Do I Need an Eye Exam?

Whether you have “perfect” vision or wear corrective lenses, regular eye exams are vital to keep tabs on your eyes’ condition. Kids, adults, seniors—it’s all the same when it comes to the fact our eyes are changing. Generally, your family can follow this schedule based on their age:

  • First exam between 6–9 months
  • 2–5 years: At least 1 exam before starting school
  • 6–18 years: 1 exam annually
  • 19–64 years: 1 exam at least every 2 years
  • 65+ years: 1 exam annually

That’s pretty simple—but there’s a wrinkle. You may need to see an optometrist more frequently if you have medical conditions that may impact your vision, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Certain health factors can increase your risk of eye conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, or early cataracts.

Don’t be surprised if your optometrist recommends you visit more frequently. By keeping a closer watch on your symptoms, you can be better prepared to react if something goes wrong. 

A female optometrist discussing a female patient's eye exam with her

Are Eye Exams & Sight Tests the Same?

You may have run into something called a “sight test” or a “vision test.” This uses automated equipment to determine your glasses prescription. While sight tests and comprehensive eye exams both involve checking your vision, they’re not exactly the same thing.

A sight test may be able to determine if you’re near or farsighted, but it overlooks the serious eye conditions that can be hiding beneath the surface. Think of a comprehensive eye exam as a full-body physical for your eyes. A sight test can be part of an eye exam, but it can also detect other health conditions such as:

  • Cataracts
  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Glaucoma
  • Retinal detachment
  • Eye & brain tumours
  • Hypertension and cardiovascular diseases
  • Brain injuries

Whew, that’s a lot more than just your eyes, eh?

What to Expect During an Eye Exam

The exact shape of an eye exam can depend on your unique factors, so usually an optometrist may try to get an overall picture by reviewing your medical history. Once you’ve been to the optometrist a few times, they may have a better understanding of your situation and the exam could be quicker.

Whatever your optometrist determines you need, a comprehensive eye exam should always be just that—comprehensive!

Pre-Exam Tests

Before (or sometimes during) your eye exam, a technician or optometrist assistant may perform a series of tests to determine your vision acuity and assess the overall health of your eyes, which can help determine if further testing is needed. These tests might include:

  • Visual field tests to measure your peripheral vision
  • Colour vision tests
  • A cover test to detect lazy eye or ocular misalignment

Visual Acuity Test

Firstly, what is all this talk about visual acuity? A visual acuity test measures how well you see. This test can help diagnose visual disorders like nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism, which can affect your daily life and even lead to serious eye conditions if left untreated.

The most common test involves identifying letters off a chart from a distance. There’s a good chance even if you’ve never had an eye exam, you can recognize this test from pop culture. Other tests use shapes or symbols instead of letters, which can be useful for children who can’t read yet.

Your optometrist may cover one eye at a time and read each line of letters/symbols from the top down until you can no longer read them. To help finalize your prescription, your optometrist may ask you to repeat the test while looking through a mask-like device called a phoropter. We’ll flip through different lenses, asking which lets you see better, to determine the exact prescription that fits your eye.

Eye Health Check

During your exam, your optometrist can use various tools to evaluate the health of your eye tissues and detect any potential health problems.

Tools such as a slit lamp let us shine a light, literally, on your eye, taking a closer look at your cornea, iris, lens, and other eye structures. We can also use special cameras to take a picture of the back of your eye, where the retina sits. All the tiny blood vessels within your retina make it an ideal place to look for signs of diabetes or cardiovascular conditions.

Your optometrist may also test for glaucoma using a tonometer. The most common type of glaucoma affects your intraocular pressure (IOP), so with tonometry, your doctor can monitor the pressure level. This is done with a puff of air or a gentle plunger against the eye.

Eyecare is Worth the Time

The length of an eye exam depends on your needs, medical history, and the kinds of tests offered. But that simple hour every year or so is worth maintaining not only your vision but your overall health.

At Total Focus Optometry, we care about your family’s eye health. You’re never too young to start focusing on your vision. So, whether you’re looking to update your prescription or taking your child to their first eye exam, we want to be there with you! Prioritize healthy vision and see all the world has to offer, book your eye exam today!

Written by Dr. Craig M

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