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How It Is Done continued...

This exam takes a few minutes.

Indirect ophthalmoscopy

This type of eye exam gives a more complete view of the retina than direct ophthalmoscopy. It is usually done by an ophthalmologist.

  • Your eyes will be dilated and you may be asked to sit upright with your head on a chin rest in a darkened room.
  • Your doctor will hold your eye open, shine a very bright light into it, and examine it through a special lens.
  • Your doctor may ask you to look in different directions and may apply pressure to your eyeball through the skin of your eyelids with a small, blunt instrument to help bring the edges of your fundus into view.

This exam takes a few minutes.

How It Feels

Direct ophthalmoscopy

During direct ophthalmoscopy, you may hear a clicking sound as the instrument is adjusted to focus on different structures in the eye. The light is sometimes very intense, and you may see spots for a short time following the exam. Some people report seeing light spots or branching images. These are actually the outlines of the blood vessels of the retina.

Indirect ophthalmoscopy

With indirect ophthalmoscopy, the light is much more intense and may be somewhat uncomfortable. Pressure applied to your eyeball with the blunt instrument also may be uncomfortable. After-images are common with this test. If the test is painful, let the doctor know.

When dilating eyedrops are used

Dilating drops may make your eyes sting and cause a medicine taste in your mouth. You will have trouble focusing your eyes for up to 12 hours after your eyes have been dilated. Your distance vision usually is not affected as much as your near vision, though your eyes may be very sensitive to light. Do not drive for several hours after your eyes have been dilated. Wearing sunglasses may make you more comfortable until the effect of the drops wears off. To learn more, see the topic Dilated Eye Exam.


In some people, the dilating or anesthetic eyedrops can cause:

Call your doctor immediately if you have severe and sudden eye pain, vision problems (halos may appear around light), or loss of vision after the exam.


Ophthalmoscopy is a test that allows a doctor to see inside the back of the eye (called the fundus) and other structures using a magnifying instrument (ophthalmoscope) and a light source.

  • All of the structures inside the eye appear normal.
  • The retina is detached camera.gif.
  • Swelling of the optic nerve (papilledema) is found.
  • Optic nerve damage caused by glaucoma is found.
  • Changes in the retina (such as hard, white deposits beneath the retina called drusen, or broken blood vessels called hemorrhages) point to macular degeneration.
  • Damaged blood vessels or bleeding in the back of the eye is seen. This could be caused by diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • Cataracts are found.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 09, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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