What to Expect During an Annual Eye Exam

Dr. Angela Seabright
Dr. Valerie Sheety-Pilon

| 4 min read

Senior woman has an annual eye exam
Feeling like you could benefit from new or updated glasses or contact lenses might be top of mind when scheduling a comprehensive eye exam. However, it’s important for individuals to have their eyes examined yearly even if there are no vision problems. An eye exam is an important part of an overall health assessment and supports the recognition of more than 270 health conditions, some of which might be detected earlier than they could be during a routine physical.
During an eye exam, an eye doctor checks many key aspects that are important to improve and protect an individual’s vision. They will evaluate many structures of the eye and the surrounding tissue to ensure there are no potential issues and will look to address anything concerning. They will also ensure the eyes are working well together as a team while at the same time checking to see if a new or updated prescription is needed. An eye care provider will also provide guidance on the latest innovations designed to improve eye health and better meet a patient’s vision needs.

Questions to ask an optometrist

Before an appointment with an optometrist, patients should prepare a short list of questions. They can include:
What types of tests will be done today, and will my eyes be dilated?
  • Although eye care providers may choose to approach the elements of an eye exam differently, their goal remains the same: to address any vision concerns and preserve the patient’s vision. Routine tests are typically performed including reading an eye chart and a series of screening tests. These tests are used to evaluate how well the eye muscles work together, how efficiently they detect and transmit light and as well how they react to different stimuli, such as color or movement.
  • Optometrists may have to perform a dilated eye exam by administering a combination of eye drops that temporarily enlarge the pupil. This is done to examine various structures inside the eye that are vital to sight. Dilation can result in mild light sensitivity for a few hours after the exam and a reduced ability to see well up-close. As a result, patients are advised to arrange transportation home from their eye exam, consider using sunglasses to improve comfort in bright light and avoid prolonged strain to see up-close without reading aids.
Questions to Ask an Optometrist-01 (1)
What is my risk for vision problems?
  • Since the eye is a complex network of tissues all working together to provide sight, it’s impossible to assign an overarching risk profile for the visual systems. However, an eye care provider is best equipped to diagnose and manage any current or future problems that interfere with a patient’s vision. Early detection or diligent prevention are the best strategies to mitigate the risk of visual impairment. Seeking routine eye care and sharing pertinent details, including current medications, allergies, overall health history and family health, as well any substance use, will greatly assist the eye care provider in determining vision risks.
  • Two of the most common eye diseases – glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration – are almost always hereditary. Individuals should learn about their family medical history and discuss it with an optometrist to determine potential risks.
  • Make sure to share any health conditions during your appointment, including obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, all of which can contribute to vision changes. In fact, diabetic retinopathy, a diabetes-related eye disease, is the number one cause of blindness in U.S. adults.

What lifestyle changes can be implemented to ensure healthy eyes? 
  • Eye care providers can advise patients on numerous strategies to help sustain healthy eyes, some of which may include lifestyle modifications. Changes that significantly improve the likelihood of maintaining good vision include quitting smoking, wearing protective eyewear during high-risk activities, wearing sunglasses while outdoors, pursuing a diet rich in leafy, green vegetables and regular exercise.
Dr. Valerie Sheety-Pilon is vice president of clinical and medical affairs at VSP Vision, a provider of vision benefit services for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
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A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
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