Vision Check: What to Expect at Your Medical Eye Exam

A young boy is looking at a medical eye exam.

Have you noticed that you just aren’t seeing things as well as you used to? Are you holding your phone a little further away from your face? If this sounds like you, then it’s time head to the optometrist for an eye exam.

If you’ve always had perfect vision, you probably don’t know what to expect when you show up for your first medical eye exam, and if it’s been a while since you had your last exam, you might be a little nervous. No need to worry! Read on to learn what to expect at your upcoming eye exam!

Come Prepared to Your Medical Eye Exam

Once you’ve found an optometrist and scheduled your first eye exam, you’ll want to sit down and prepare for the exam. This means making a list of any issues you’re currently experiencing with your vision like blurriness or dry eyes. Writing down your concerns enables you to cover all of them at your appointment without forgetting.

You’ll also want to make sure you compile a list of any chronic health conditions you’re dealing with from high blood pressure to medication allergies. If you’re able, gather any family history of eye issues, as well. Finally, if you are already wearing glasses or contacts, you’ll want to bring them with you so the doctor can read your current prescription.

Who’s at Risk for Eye Issues?

On top of your everyday concerns about your eye health, you should also compile a list of factors that may have an impact on your vision to share with your optometrist at your appointment. There are several factors that can put you at risk for eye damage. Some of these factors are lifestyle issues, while others are chronic conditions that have an impact on your vision.

One disease that can have a major impact on your eye health over time is diabetes. Diabetes, and sometimes even pre-diabetes, leads to several eye issues termed diabetic eye disease. Diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic macular edema are all possible complications of diabetes.

If you have diabetes, you need to have your eyes examined on a regular basis to make sure that they’re healthy. The same is true if you have high blood pressure or take any medication that has the potential to impact your vision.

The Visual Acuity Test

One of the most basic tests you’ll do at your eye exam is the visual acuity test. During this exam, the doctor will ask you to look at a chart of letters that get smaller with each descending line. You’ll cover one eye and read down the chart as far as you can go and then switch eyes and do the same over again.

Why? Our eyes are not always in sync with each other in terms of vision. It’s possible that one eye is weaker than the other, so it’s necessary to test each eye independently.

Peripheral Vision Test

You might think what we see directly in front of us is the most important aspect of our vision, but our peripheral vision is incredibly important as well. The peripheral vision test helps make sure that your peripheral vision is in good shape and helps your doctor identify the size of your visual field.

There are many ways optometrists test your peripheral vision. They may have you look into a machine and press a button whenever you see a light flash. The doctor may also have you focus on a specific point and ask you to tell them when you see them move an object in or out of your peripheral vision.

Glaucoma Testing

Worried that you might be at risk for glaucoma? There are tests that can be done when you’re at the optometrist to make sure that the pressure in your eyes is normal.

One test is done with a tonometer. The doctor puts numbing drops in your eyes and has you look straight ahead. The tonometer will lightly touch the surface of each eye and measure the amount of pressure in your eyes.

Your doctor may also measure your eye pressure with a puff of air. Like with the tonometer, you’ll look at a target, and a machine will release a puff of air in both of your eyes. Eye pressure is measured based on the amount of resistance your eyes have to the air.

Pupil Dilation

Yes, you should plan on having your eyes dilated (ophthalmoscopy) when you visit your optometrist, especially if you are at risk for eye disease. The doctor will put some drops in your eyes that take approximately 20 to 30 minutes to take effect. Dilating your pupils allows your doctor to see the back of your eyes and examine your retina and your optic nerve.

Don’t forget to bring a good pair of sunglasses to wear outside the office when you finish your exam. The effects of the dilation may take a few hours to wear off.


If you’re planning on ordering contact lenses or glasses after your medical eye exam, then you will need to have a retinoscopy. For this part of your exam, you’ll sit in a chair and your doctor will lower an instrument that has a number of different lenses attached and ask you to look at the chart from the visual acuity test.

The doctor will flip between the different lenses, two at a time, and ask you which is clearer. This portion of your eye exam is how your doctor determines the best prescription for your glasses or contact lenses.

Ready for Your Eye Exam?

As you can tell, there are a number of tests that may be done when during your medical eye exam. It all depends on your individual concerns and risks. Be sure to make the most of your annual eye exam by coming prepared with a list of questions and concerns and you’ll leave feeling great!

Do you live in Idaho or Utah and want to stay on top of your eye health? You’ve come to the right place! Schedule your exam today to get started!