Definition and Overview
Optometry is a primary health care profession that deals with the examination of the eyes with the goal to diagnose visual acuity conditions such as myopia, hyperopia, presbyopia and astigmatism. An optometrist, a doctor of optometry, prescribes and fits corrective lenses (eyeglasses and contact lenses) to treat vision problems. In some countries, these eye doctors are trained and licensed to diagnose, treat and manage eye diseases. In the majority of cases, they are also allowed to prescribe medications for various eye conditions.
Normally, people visit an optometrist when they begin to experience trouble with their eyesight that usually manifests as:
- Blurry vision
- Difficulty in focusing on near or far objects
- Having headaches from eye strain
- Difficulty in seeing in the dark or at night
- Getting dizzy while following an object in motion
- Having to hold reading materials at arm’s length
- Dry or itchy eye
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
Nowadays, people are almost always on the computer, whether at home, in school or at work. This leads to an excessive use of the eyes causing eye strain and eye trouble even with younger children. In some schools, students undergo vision testing and are expected to visit an optometrist for proper treatment when necessary. Adults are ideally expected to visit an optometrist at least once a year especially if there’s a history of eye diseases in the family.
But eye checkups are still essential even with 20/20 vision as a visit to the optometrist can detect signs of diseases like high blood pressure, glaucoma and diabetes. These can also monitor the changes in vision and health of the eyes and adjustments to eyeglasses and contact lenses can also be promptly performed when needed.
How Does the Procedure Work?
An optometry follow-up usually takes an hour and involves the following:
The optometrist will ask for the patient’s medical history, especially if the patient has a predisposition to eye diseases. Though the previous problems are on record, it is best to mention them at this time and elaborate if things have progressed or worsened. This will provide the optometrist a starting point in diagnosing the problem.
The optometrist will then proceed with several vision testing procedures, which may include the following:
Visual acuity based on distance. With a standard eye chart, the test will determine how well the patient sees from afar. A handheld chart will then be used to gauge the patient’s ability to read up close.
- Color blindness test
- Cover test – In this test, the patient is asked to cover one eye while the other focuses on an object to determine how well each eye focuses on the object.
- Retinoscopy test – This uses an eye chart that allows the optometrist to gauge the patient’s eyeglass prescription.
Refraction test – This is a more accurate test for determining the patient’s eyeglass prescription. With the autorefractor, the lens prescription is automatically determined. The patient only has to rest his chin on the device and focus on a target so the optometrist can obtain the eyeglass prescription.
The optometrist will use the slit-lamp to evaluate the condition of the eyes. The slit-lamp magnifies the eye and allows the optometrist to view the minute structures in detail. Many diseases are detected through this test like macular degeneration and cataracts.
Glaucoma may be detected using the tonometry test. A puff of air is applied to an open eye to determine intraocular pressure.
The optometrist may also opt for pupil dilation using eye drops for ease of examination of the eye’s structures. The drops applied to the eyes take 20 minutes to take effect and may last for several hours. It is important that a friend or family member be with the patient because his eyes will be extra sensitive to light and will have difficulty focusing.
Contact lens fittings are normally scheduled on a different day especially when the pupils are dilated. The processes (eye exams and contact lens fittings) are done by the same optometrist, so eye tests don’t have to be repeated.
Referrals to an ophthalmologist may be required if an eye disease has been detected.
Possible Complications and Risks
The eye tests in an optometry follow-up are not entirely risky because they are non-invasive. However, the pupil dilation procedure leaves the eyes sensitive to light for several hours, which may be a cause for concern. Sunglasses may be helpful, but it is not advisable to drive.
- American Optometric Association: "Comprehensive Eye and Vision Examination."
- Prevent Blindness America: "How Often Should I Have an Eye Exam?"