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How Often Should I Have a Comprehensive Eye Exam?

How Often Should I Have a Comprehensive Eye Exam?

Comprehensive eye exams are usually pretty low on people’s priority lists, but they shouldn’t be. Seeing an ophthalmologist at least once a year ensures that we can address any changes in your visual acuity, and catch any diseases in their earliest stages, when we can treat them most successfully.

At Retina Specialists, our team of expert ophthalmologists specializes in providing comprehensive dilated eye exams for our patients in and around the Dallas, Texas, area. If you haven’t had an eye exam for a while, here’s why you should make it a priority.

What is a comprehensive eye exam?

A comprehensive eye exam includes both a refractive check to determine how well you see, and a medical check to ensure all parts of the eyes are healthy.

We start by dilating your pupils. Widening the aperture helps us see the internal structures in greater detail. The dilating drops last for a few hours and make you light-sensitive. You should come prepared with sunglasses, and while you can drive yourself home, you might want to have someone drive you because of the sensitivity.

A comprehensive eye exam includes a number of tests:

Visual acuity

Also called a refraction, this test measures your close-up and distance vision, as well as if you have an astigmatism, a deviation in shape of the cornea that can cause blurry vision. This test tells us if you need corrective lenses and, if so, how much correction is necessary. 

The doctor has you cover your eyes one at a time, then read the letters on the Snellen eye chart from a distance. Which lines are clear and which are blurry indicates the degree of refractive error you have. The doctor will also have you read the letters through a phoropter device, which allows them to test different lenses to see if any make your vision clearer. 

If you need glasses or contact lenses, they write a prescription for you.

Visual field

This test measures peripheral vision, the 98% of vision that doesn’t lie in the clear, central part (macula). The doctor holds up a finger or an object and moves it slowly side to side and up and down. You follow the object with just your eyes. 

If you can’t see the object in certain areas of your peripheral vision, they schedule you for a computerized version of the test, which provides more accurate and detailed results.

Ophthalmoscopy (fundoscopy)

Once your eyes are fully dilated, the doctor uses a Haag-Streit slit lamp to inspect the inside of your eyes. You don’t need to do anything, just rest your chin and forehead against the machine. The lamp shines a bright light into each eye, illuminating the various structures under high magnification. These include the cornea, lens, anterior and vitreous chambers, the retina at the back of the eye (and the macula), the optic nerve, and surrounding blood vessels.

This inspection allows the doctor to detect the earliest signs of disease (e.g. cataracts, macular degeneration, blood vessel leakage), increasing their chances of treating it successfully.


This test measures the intraocular pressure (IOP). If the pressure gets too high inside your eye, it can lead to glaucoma, a disease that destroys the optic nerve and with it your sight. It may not produce symptoms in its early stages, making regular testing critical for your eye health.

We put numbing drops in your eyes first, so you don’t feel a thing. Then, the doctor uses a tonometer to blow a small puff of air onto the cornea, which registers the IOP. 

Alternatively, they may use applanation tonometry. After putting the numbing drops in your eyes, they gently rest a flat-tipped cone against your cornea and measure the amount of pressure needed to flatten a portion of it.

Discussing the results

Once the doctor finishes the exam, they discuss their findings with you. If everything looks healthy and you don’t need a change of prescription, they schedule your next comprehensive eye exam for the following year.

If they discover any indications of eye disease, such as the beginnings of glaucoma, a retinal tear, an issue with the cornea, or a cloudy lens (cataract), they schedule follow-up tests to determine the extent of the problem and draw up a treatment plan to address it.

If it’s been more than a year since your last comprehensive eye exam, it’s time to come into Retina Specialists for an evaluation. Call us at any of our five Texas offices — Dallas, DeSoto, Plano, Mesquite, and Waxahachie — to schedule.

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