Most of us don’t think about the health of our eyes unless our vision changes. But a regular eye test is the best way to pick up many eye conditions early so you can get treatment as soon as possible. The College of Optometrists recommends that everyone aged over 16 should have an eye test every two years and younger children should be tested every year.
Your optometrist may suggest that you have an annual eye test if you are over the age of 60 or there is a family history of glaucoma. If you’re worried about your vision or eye health, always seek professional advice from your optometrist or GP as soon as possible — don’t wait until your next check-up is due.
An eye test can pick up more than problems with your eye health. Your optometrist can also uncover issues with your general health by looking at your eyes, and in some cases, before you even notice symptoms. Optometrists regularly pick up health issues such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Your optometrist will also evaluate how well you can see and whether you need glasses.
Your eye test (or eye examination) will be performed by an optometrist in the privacy of an examination room. It’s important to take your glasses with you. If you wear daily contact lenses, take a spare pair with you, or if you wear weekly contact lenses, bring your case, as you will have to remove your lenses for the test.
You will be asked about your eyes, your current vision, your glasses or contacts and whether you have any concerns that need investigation. Your optometrist will also ask you about your general health, whether you are taking any medication and if you have any family members with eye conditions.
Your optometrist will carry out a variety of tests to thoroughly check your eye health and vision. This will usually include:
Tonometer or ‘eye puff’ test: As you look through an eyepiece, air is puffed onto the surface of your eye and the internal pressure of each eye is measured. This test helps detect the early signs of glaucoma.
Autorefractor test: You will be asked to stare at a picture that appears closer and then further away. This test monitors how well your eyes are focusing and can also detect long and short-sightedness.
Digital retinal photograph: Your optometrist takes an image of the back of each eye (your retinas) to assess their health. This image is kept so that it can be used to make future comparisons.
Retinoscopy: Your eyes will be checked to see how well they focus, using red and green lines at a distance. While you gaze at the lines, the optometrist will shine a light into each eye in turn.
Snellen test or ‘letter test’: You will be asked to read rows of letters that get progressively smaller, both with and without lenses.
Ophthalmoscope examination: This special torch is used to examine the health of your retinas and optic nerve as well as the blood vessels that supply them.
Visual field check: Using a series of flashing lights, the optometrist will check your peripheral vision. This test is used to detect the early signs of glaucoma.
Volk lens or ‘slit lamp test’: This special microscope is used to examine your corneas (front surface of your eyes), irises (coloured part of your eyes that surrounds your pupils) and lenses, to ensure that they are not damaged.
An OCT scan (optical coherence tomography) takes a 3D image that captures detailed images of your retinas, going beyond their surface and through their different layers. Measuring the thickness of these layers helps to detect the early signs of many eye conditions before any noticeable effects on your vision develop. This scan isn’t included as part of a standard eye test but is usually offered for a small additional fee.
Your optometrist will discuss the results of your eye test. They will let you know if you need a new prescription for your glasses or contact lenses and whether any eye conditions were detected. They’ll talk you through your treatment options and may refer you to an ophthalmologist, a doctor specialising in eye health.
As well as having regular eye tests, there are several other ways you can look after your eyes, including:
Remember, eye tests don’t just keep your vision sharp. They can pick up the early signs of eye disease before you notice any symptoms so you can start treatment as soon as possible.
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