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How Long Does an Eye Exam Take?

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A woman in an optometrist's office shaking hands with her optometrist.

In our fast-paced world, when you need to visit a medical professional for help, you want someone who only has eyes for you. You want a practice that is dedicated to offering its patients comfortable vision solutions through individualized eye care and quality eyeglasses

The first step is an eye exam. It’s recommended that adults have an eye exam every 1 to 2 years, regardless of whether your eyesight has noticeably changed. Regular eye exams can determine if you need corrective glasses and detect more significant issues that could lead to vision loss later in life.

But how long will your eye exam take? A complete eye exam typically takes 20 to 60 minutes. Certain factors, however, can keep you in an optometrist’s office for more time. Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect from your eye exam.

What’s Included in an Eye Exam?

Your eye doctor will perform several tests during an eye exam to evaluate the current condition of your eyesight and identify possible early warning signs of eye diseases. 

Once your optometrist has a thorough grasp of your medical history and needs, they may:

  • Examine your visual acuity to see if you require corrective lenses
  • Examine your eye’s reaction to light and movement, and determine the pressure inside the eye 
  • Examine the health of your eyelid, lens, cornea, iris, retina, and optic nerve for signs and symptoms of more significant problems

All these components are why an eye exam can take, on average, 20 to 60 minutes to complete, however, in some cases, an eye exam may go over 60 minutes, but this is not typical. 

3 Tests Done in an Eye Exam

Comprehensive eye exams can include a lot of different elements. Depending on your specific eye care needs, you may experience particular tests during your eye exam, such as:

  • A refraction exam: This involves looking through multiple lenses to determine your corrective lens prescription.
  • A slit-lamp exam: The optometrist evaluates specific interior and exterior eye features under a slit-lamp microscope.
  • A dilation exam: The optometrist examines the retina of your eye to determine its health using special eye drops that enlarge your pupils. 

Refraction Exam

During your refraction exam, you will find yourself in a unique chair with a phoropter or refractor connected to it. An eye chart at a 20-foot distance comes into clear view as you peer through the device, which has lenses inside it that you can move into your field of vision. Each eye will be tested separately. 

The optometrist will then ask about the clarity of the different lenses, and your responses will determine the outcome. 

Slit-Lamp Exam

A slit-lamp exam is like a type of microscope that offers a magnified, 3D view of the eye’s components more clearly. The device helps optometrists examine the iris, the lens, and the transparent outer layer (the cornea), as well as the fluid that makes up a significant space in the center of the eye. 

For seeing the deeper structure of the eye, special lenses can be inserted between the slit-lamp and the cornea, or placed against it. The deeper parts of the eye include the optic nerve, the retina, and the spot where the fluid leaves the eye.

Dilation Exam

A dilation exam intentionally makes the pupils bigger so that the optometrist can thoroughly inspect the condition of the optic nerve and retina. Under normal conditions, pupils dilate to allow more light in or as a reaction to an array of triggers. During a dilation exam, the optometrist will use eye drops to dilate the pupils more than usual to see more within the eye. 

Depending on your sensitivity to the eye drops, it normally takes 15 to 30 minutes to fully dilate the pupils. Dilated pupils usually take 4 to 6 hours to return to normal. Some people may have longer-lasting eye dilation.

A senior man facing his optometrist as she shines a small flashlight into his eye.

How to Prepare for an Eye Exam

Planning ahead for your eye exam can help the exam go smoothly and take as little time out of your day as possible. 

To prepare, think about your family history, your current eye health, and if you’ve been experiencing any symptoms or concerns lately. Have you had any health issues, injuries, or operations lately? If you have glasses or contacts, bringing those along with you is important for the optometrist as you could need an updated prescription. 

Bringing a list of your current medications may help your optometrist determine if what you are taking could affect your vision. You may also want to bring your vision insurance information.

Bring your most recent prescription eyeglasses, sunglasses, and contact lens (labels or boxes) so that you can discuss all needs and possible changes with the optometrist.

If you know your eye exam will include a dilation exam, bring a family member or friend to drive you home after the exam.

Setting Time Aside for Your Eyes

So, how long does an eye exam take? Allow at least an hour for the exam, with the awareness that you may need more time if you undergo a dilation exam. Feel free to reach out to us if you have specific questions about your next eye exam. 

Book an appointment at The Eye Avenue today!

Written by Dr. John Tran

Dr. John Tran is a board-certified Optometric Physician. He is a member of the American Optometric Association, Florida Optometric Association, and Central Florida Society of Optometric Physicians. Dr. Tran was born and raised in California, where he attended Cal State University, Hayward, and majored in Health Science. His acceptance to Nova Southeastern University brought him 3000 miles from home to Florida, where he proceeded to earn his Doctor of Optometry degree in 2012. Optometry school was where he also met his wife, Dr. Regina Tran, and together, they made central Florida their home after graduation. Dr. Tran is passionate about vision and eye health, which fuels his commitment to delivering a one-of-a-kind eye care experience to his community.
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