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Eye examinations and eye screenings: What’s the difference?

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

You may have heard different terminology referring to getting your eyes tested, such as a ‘screening’ versus an eye examination.

In case you’ve ever wondered what the difference is, there is in fact quite a distinction, so here we explain the difference.

Both can reveal valuable information about our eye health but each has its own unique purpose. Find out more below.

What is an eye or vision screening?

Eye screenings, or vision screenings, are relatively short tests designed to determine if you’re having difficulty seeing,  if you’re long or short sighted or if you have problems co-ordinating your eye muscles. Basically, the main task is to test your visual acuity, which is a measure of central vision only.

Screenings will typically involve an eye chart (or Snellen chart) as the key tool to test your vision at a basic level.  GPs or maternal child health nurses usually have a basic cardboard chart on their office wall.

An eye chart is a series of letters which get progressively smaller and harder to read lower down the chart. Patients stand about 6 meters away and are tested on how well they can read each row. Those with vision problems will have difficulty reading the letters accurately indicating prescription glasses are likely required, or that further testing needs to take place.

A vision screening is typically used as a quick and simple method, perhaps when there are many people needing to be tested within a short timeframe, or if proper optometric equipment isn’t available. Screenings should not be relied upon for detailed results; they are merely a precursor to getting a more comprehensive test.

Quite often an eye screening can reveal issues that need further investigation so your GP, maternal and child-health nurse, school nurse or workplace vision screener may recommend a full eye examination with an optometrist following a screening.

What is an eye examination?

Eye examinations involve a more comprehensive test that generally last between 30 and 60 minutes and are typically performed by an optometrist. Eye examinations can diagnose potential eye diseases and vision problems that eye screenings can’t, including signs of cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration, or other more general health-related diseases, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. In children and younger adults, ‘hidden’ longsightedness or astigmatism  may be revealed, causing unexplained headaches or vision fatigue.

Even if  you are able to see the smallest line at the bottom of  a vision chart, you can still have an eye disease at the front of your eye (e.g. dry eyes or early cataracts) or back of your eye (e.g. glaucoma) , or need to wear low prescription glasses to alleviate unexplained vision discomfort at the computer, eye strain or headaches.

Eye examinations involve a series of tests to determine the clarity and comfort of your vision, as well as the overall health of your eyes. These tests involve checking finer aspects of your eye co-ordination, examining the front (e.g. lids, cornea, lens) and back of your eyes (optic nerve, macula) closely on a special microscope called a slit-lamp, and your field of view.

The pressure of the eyeball, and colour vision will also be tested depending on your individual profile and age.  By providing information about your hobbies, lifestyle, computer and device usage, eye examinations ensure you receive the best possible eye care.

See what happens in an eye examination here.

Use our Find an Optometrist search function to schedule an eye test today.

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