What to expect during an eye test and why they're so important

Being a human is hard work - much like a highly tuned vehicle, to stay in tip-top condition we need the right fuel, ongoing maintenance, regular checkups, frequent cleaning, and to stretch our legs often - all while not putting too much stress on that engine. And much like the all-important headlights, we also need to see where we're going. You'd quickly replace a burnt-out bulb or fix foggy headlights - so why should your eyes be any different?

Yes, humans require a lot of maintenance - from teeth-cleaning to mole maps to pap smears to annual check-ups. Eye tests are also incredibly important - not only for monitoring your vision, but also for maintaining the health of the eyes. It's recommended everyone gets a test every two years - potentially more often if you fall into a certain age group.

Anyone can develop problems with their sight, but some groups of people may be at a higher risk: those aged 40 and over who have a family history of glaucoma and those aged 60 or over. If you fall into these categories, it's worth speaking to your optometrist to determine how often you will need an eye test.

Regardless of whether it has been two years since your last test, anyone who notices a change in their vision or other symptoms should get their eyes checked as soon as possible. 

If you haven't had an eye test before or not for a long time, it's better late than never - and the good news is that it's quick and easy to do. At Specsavers, all stores offer an advanced 3D eye scan (OCT) as part of the standard comprehensive eye test. The scans can reveal potential abnormalities and help the optometrist to detect eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic eye disease in their earliest stages.

What to expect during an eye test

To give an in-depth idea of what to expect during an eye test, Newshub spoke to Ian Russell, an optometrist partner at Specsavers Whanganui. 

Once you've booked your eye test and arrive at your local Specsavers, you will be greeted by a member of staff who will transfer you to a trained clinical assistant, who will conduct some diagnostic tests before you see your optometrist. These tests are performed on all patients and provide the optometrist with vital information to help them assess the health of your eyes.

Next, it's time to see your optometrist. The optometrist will first talk to you about the history of your eye health, your family history and any issues you may be experiencing.

They will also review your diagnostic tests and discuss the results with you. During your consultation, your optometrist will further check the health of your eyes, look for signs of other medical conditions and check your vision. To check your vision, the optometrist will perform a refraction test to determine whether your vision needs correcting.

"The process normally takes 30 to 40 minutes. We start by using some automated instruments to give us some measurements of the eye shape and likely prescription. The optometrist will go through a number of questions to establish how best we can help. These include any troubles the person is having with their eyes and vision, previous eye issues, family with eye health conditions, occupational or recreational needs and general health, which has an impact on the eyes," Russell explained. 

"The investigations the optometrist will perform include measuring how well the person sees with and without any glasses, determining the strength of any glasses required, assessing how the eyes work together, and checking the overall health of the eyes."

After the eye test, you will be given a copy of your prescription and if corrective lenses are required, a team member will help you pick out contact lenses or frames and lenses to suit your prescription and lifestyle needs. The dispenser will send your chosen frames, your measurements and lens selections to the lab, where your glasses will be custom-made for you. An appointment will then be booked for collection and a final fitting, which normally takes around 10 minutes. 

"If glasses are required, various options are discussed that will best meet the person's needs. This info will be passed to a team member who will help the person choose the most appropriate solution," Russell said.

If an eye health condition is detected during the examination, the optometrist will discuss how to manage the condition, any treatment options or referral to an eye specialist if required, as well as coordination with your GP, he added.

Why is it recommended that everyone should get their eyes tested every two years?

A number of eye conditions develop slowly, sometimes without obvious changes in vision, Russell explained.

Small changes over the course of two years may not be immediately noticeable to the affected person, but with good technology, these changes can be detected earlier and treated before they start to impact their vision. Small changes to a person's prescription can have a significant impact on visual comfort and eye fatigue, so checking the eyes regularly and making sure the optometrist has an up-to-date prescription ensures people have the best vision possible.

What are the more common conditions that are picked up during routine eye tests?

The eyes can be affected by a number of different conditions - and a lot of them are fairly common.

Among the most common Russell sees in patients are cataracts (cloudiness of the internal lens), macula degeneration (the central vision starting to wear out with age), glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve fibre, reducing peripheral vision) and ocular surface disease (dry eyes and/or inflamed lids).

"Also ocular allergy, eyelid cancers, sun growths on the eye, retinal tears, and detachments," Russell added.

What are some common vision changes that should always be investigated?

If you notice any differences in your vision, it's worth booking an eye test and having the  changes investigated, Russell said.

"These may be normal vision changes that happen over time, but any sudden changes need checking more quickly," he explained.

If you experience a sudden loss of vision or the sudden onset of new symptoms, like flashing, sparkling lights or little black blobs or dots, book an appointment with an optometrist immediately. These symptoms can indicate the retina at the back of the eye may be detaching. Red eyes, halos around lights and pain in the eye should also all be checked promptly.

How can Kiwis make sure they are looking after their eyes in-between eye tests?

Of course, there are a number of things we can do to help protect and look after our eyes in-between tests. In New Zealand, where the sun is particularly strong, sunglasses are incredibly important to reduce the damage accumulated from the sun over a lifetime. 

Managing your general health is also important. In New Zealand, the leading cause of blindness in the working age population is diabetic eye disease, so keeping on top of diabetes is crucial.

Taking regular breaks during long periods of looking at a screen is also very important. Optometrists suggest the 20/20/20 rule - every 20 minutes of work, take a 20 second break and look at something at least 20 metres away. 

Enjoying natural light each day has also proved to be beneficial - in particular, make sure there is good light when reading and avoid reading in the dark. 

"A number of eye conditions have a genetic element so it's a good idea to find out if any family members have things like glaucoma, macula degeneration and cataracts," Russell added.

Now you know what to expect and why eye tests are so important, what are you waiting for? Book your eye exam with Specsavers - there's a lot of great things in life worth seeing. 

This article was created for Specsavers.