Eye examination

During an eye examination, an eye specialist will check how well you can see and assess if you need glasses to help with any vision problems.

undefinedThey also look for signs of undetected diseases. An eye examination is normally done by an optometrist, a health care professional trained to detect and manage eye problems. They use a wide range of investigations to assess the function and health of the eye. If you have more serious eye concerns, they may refer you to an ophthalmologist, a doctor who specialises in the health of the eye. 

When caught early, several sight-threatening conditions can be treated successfully. Without treatment, some conditions can progressively destroy your sight and can cause blindness.

According to the World Health Organisation, 75% of blindness in the world is preventable.

A comprehensive eye examination

When you see an optometrist, you should expect to have a comprehensive eye examination. This will take time as there is a lot to cover.

Key elements of the process are:

  • Questions about your age, state of general health, medical history, and family history of diseases such as glaucoma, diabetes and heart disease.
  • An assessment of your colour vision.
  • Tests of your eye muscles to make sure they move and coordinate properly.
  • An assessment of pupil function and response.
  • An assessment of vision and measuring a prescription for glasses.
  • Measurements of the pressure in each eye. 
  • An assessment of your internal eye health, including retina, optic nerve, and blood vessels. 
  • An assessment of your external eye health including the surface of the eye, eyelids, and eyelashes. 
  • Visual field test to check for blind spots caused by eye disease or brain damage (eg, glaucoma or stroke).
  • Discussion of your diagnosis. 
  • Discussion of the management options and treatment plans. 
  • Recording all information in your clinical record.

Dilation test

Often, to see all of the inside of your eye, your optometrist will need to dilate your pupils. Dilation involves using eye drops to make the pupil bigger and the effect can last a few hours. 

When your eyes are dilated, your close-up vision may become blurred, and you may be more sensitive to light. This process does not damage your eyes. The optometrist would usually advise you not to drive for a few hours after the drops have been put into your eyes.

Eye medicines and general medicines

For some conditions, optometrists will recommend treatment with medicines that you can buy from the practice or the pharmacy. Many optometrists will also be able to prescribe eye medicines just as your GP does and they might also order lab tests if needed. This means you should expect to be asked about any medicines you are taking, even if they are not for your eyes.

Spectacles or contact lenses

If your eyesight is not as good as it can be, then an optometrist is the best person to guide you on which glasses or contact lenses are best for you. Your optometrist will test and measure your prescription to see if you have long-sightedness, short-sightedness or astigmatism. 

If you have a new prescription, it can take time to get used to your new glasses or contact lenses. It is always advisable to contact your optometrist if, after a while, your eyes are uncomfortable or you have any problems with your vision despite getting a new prescription.

Eye examinations for specific purposes

Optometrists also provide consultations for specific purposes such as:

  • checking for diabetic eye disease
  • glaucoma monitoring and management
  • advice on optics and visual performance
  • binocular vision problems
  • low vision care
  • industrial eye health and safety issues
  • children's eye examinations
  • sports vision
  • contact lenses
  • red eyes, eye infections, dry eyes and eye allergies

If you need further investigations or other treatment (including surgery), an optometrist can refer you to an ophthalmologist who is a medically trained eye specialist.

Reviewed by

Kenny is a therapeutic optometrist at Eye Institute and Counties Manukau District Health Board. Kenny has a clinical background in ocular surface disease & retina, along with research experience in retinal imaging and macular disease.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team & New Zealand Association of Optometrists . Reviewed By: Kenny Wu, Optometrist, Eye Institute, Auckland Last reviewed: 07 Mar 2022