The word “comprehensive” provides a good clue. After collecting a thorough history, the doctor will conduct visual acuity tests by having the patient read letters on charts (normal acuity is 20/20). Other tests include depth perception, color vision, eye muscle movements, peripheral or side vision and how the pupils respond to light. Keratometry measures the surface of the cornea (clear outer surface of the eye), and a refraction test indicates the lens power needed to compensate for problems like near-sightedness.
A dilated eye exam is the best way for an optometrist to determine if the patient has a vision problem or eye disease. Many of these conditions have no warning signs and can only be diagnosed with a dilated eye exam. The special drops used in this exam dilate the pupils, which allows the doctor to see the inside of the eyeball. A close inspection shows problems that would not otherwise be visible.
As people age, their eyes usually change, but the changes are slow; it's not until a doctor conducts an examination that the patient realizes there's a problem. It's much better to catch a problem early -- or even better -- head it off entirely. Regular eye exams also allow your doctor to build up a record of your eyes, which makes it much easier to see when something does change.
Infants should be checked at about six months. Children should be checked at age three and five, and then every two years. Adults should be checked once between the ages of 20 and 29, twice between age 30 and 39, every two to four years from age 40 to 65 and every one to two years after age 65. Most people should start having dilated eye exams at age 60. African Americans should start about age 40 because they have a higher risk of glaucoma. People with diabetes need a dilated eye exam annually.
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