Eye Doctor Appointment: What to Expect

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on March 13, 2024
3 min read

Don’t skip your annual eye doctor visit because you think you can see just  fine. Eye exams aren’t only for people with poor vision. They're an important way to find eye problems before symptoms show up. Your eye doctor can also catch other problems, like diabetes, early on.

If it's been more than a few years since your last visit, or if you've never had one, it’s time to get one on the calendar now.

Should you choose an optometrist (OD) or an ophthalmologist (MD) for your initial eye exam? If this is a routine checkup, you can go with either one. If you have or think you might have an eye problem like cataracts or another condition that may require surgery, an ophthalmologist is the right choice. Other issues like a routine treating of glaucoma or diabetic eye health checks can be handled by either of the two types of doctors. 

  • Your glasses or contacts (including the boxes with the brand and powers listed if you wear them). Ask if you should stop wearing your contacts for a few days before the visit.
  • A list of any health conditions or allergies
  • A list of all medications and supplements you take
  • A list of any specific questions you have about your eye health
  • Your medical insurance information. Most policies don’t cover routine eye care, but if there is a diagnosis, such as dry eyes or glaucoma, you might get coverage. Vision insurance will cover some routine eye care, but most ophthalmologists (MDs) don’t take part in these plans.

After you fill out new-patient paperwork, you'll go to the exam room to meet the doctor. The exact type of exam will vary. But here are some things you can expect:

  • Patient history. Your doctor will ask about your general health and any family history of eye diseases.
  • Vision tests. The doctor will check your close and distance vision. You'll read from charts of random letters. The doctor may also test other aspects of your vision -- like your ability to see in 3-D, your side vision (called peripheral vision), and color perception.
  • Tonometry. This is a test for glaucoma. After numbing your eye with an eye drop, the doctor will measure the eye pressure with a puff of air or by using a device called a tonometer.
  • Eye exam. The doctor will check all the parts of your eye. You may need drops to dilate -- or widen -- your pupils. This gives the doctor a clear view of the inside of your eye. These drops make your eyes sensitive to light for a few hours. You'll need to wear sunglasses until they wear off. You may need someone to drive you home. The doctor will also check your peripheral vision and how well your eye muscles work together.
  • Other tests. Eye exams can help spot early signs of glaucoma, diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis. If the doctor finds anything odd, you may need a follow-up with your regular doctor or a specialist.

How long will it take? If it's your first visit to your new eye doctor, allow an hour or two. That includes time to get the exam and to get fitted for a prescription if you need it. Later appointments won't take as much time.

  • Make sure you have a copy of your eyeglasses prescription, if you need one.
  • Understand where you should go to get your glasses or contacts prescription filled.
  • Make sure you have instructions about how to use any medication if you need it.
  • Schedule your next appointment or checkup.

Everyone needs eye exams. Different medical organizations have different recommendations for how often you need to go. A good rule of thumb:

  • Young adults: Once in your 20s and twice in your 30s if you have no problems and do not wear glasses or contacts. If you do have a problem or wear glasses or contacts, you should go every year.
  • Adults: At age 40 with regular follow-ups, depending on your health.
  • Adults 65 and older: Every 1-2 years.
  • Children: At birth, 6 months, 3 years, and before entering grade school. Eye exams often happen along with regular doctor visits or pre-school checkups.

You’ll need to get checkups more often if you have health conditions or a family history of vision problems likes glaucoma, macular degeneration, or corneal diseases.

When else should you see the eye doctor? If you have a sudden vision change, eye pain, or severe irritation.