Four Things Patients Fear (but shouldn’t) When Visiting the Optometrist

Picture of Dr. David Friesen

Dr. David Friesen

During my years as an optometrist, I have come to recognize several common, and understandable fears that many patients express as they walk into my office. I would like to address, and set aside those concerns, so that your next eye exam will be a stress-free experience, and hopefully more enjoyable than a trip to your dentist for a root canal!

Patient: “I’m always worried I will give the wrong answer when the optometrist asks which option looks more clear?”

My Response:

Optometrists use a technique called “subjective refraction” to determine your prescription (strength of the lenses that will go into your glasses). It is called “subjective” because the optometrist shows you two lens options and asks which lens provides sharper vision, “1 or 2?”. The optometrist uses your answers to lead him/her to your correct glasses prescription. In the clip below, we see our friend George Michael from the hit show Arrested Development, nervously trying to navigate his way through subjective refraction. George Michael’s angst is not unlike the anxiety I sometimes see with my own patients during this portion of the eye exam.

What patients should know, is that the optometrist usually has an approximation of your prescription before he even begins asking you these questions. When he asks you if you prefer “1 or 2” he is refining your prescription. When two lenses look the same, it is ok to tell the optometrist so. The more two images look the same, the closer we are to your correct prescription. Also, the optometrist will usually have you look through your final prescription just to make sure you are happy with lenses that you will be looking through in your new glasses.

Patient: “I’m scared of the air puff test”

My Response:

If you have had an eye exam, there’s a good chance you remember the infamous “air puff test”. This test uses a machine to blow a quick blast of air at your eye. The machine then measures how that air interacted with the front surface of the eye, and yields a value indicating your eye pressure. Eye pressure is an important measurement, as it is used as one value to screen for an eye disease known as glaucoma. High eye pressure can put you at risk for developing glaucoma. Fortunately, this test is quick and painless. We all have a built-in blink reflex that’s triggered anytime we anticipate something coming towards our eyes. It’s this anticipation that sometimes gives patients a bit of apprehension. It is important to remember that this test produces only a brief puff of air and is completely safe. It’s an essential part of a comprehensive eye exam!

Patient: “I’m afraid the optometrist will tell me I need glasses”

My Response:

While many people love how they look in a trendy pair of glasses, others prefer the freedom of going about their day without the aid of spectacles. A common misconception held by patients, is that, if they can’t read the smallest line on the chart, they will be forced to wear glasses full time. Following your eye exam, the optometrist will review your results and make a recommendation on eyewear based on your lifestyle. The optometrist will also discuss whether glasses are needed for driving. Even if your vision is not perfect; as long as your vision falls within legal requirements for driving and/or your occupation, the optometrist may indicate that glasses are not mandatory. The optometrist’s goal is to recommend eyewear when, not doing so is unsafe, or impairs your day to day activities. For those who need to wear correction, but are adverse to glasses, contact lenses or laser eye surgery are possible alternatives.

Patient: “How long will my eyes be blurry following dilation drops?”

My Response:

A comprehensive eye exam involves a thorough examination of the health of the back part of the eye. In order to do so, optometrists often use a drop that dilates the pupils. This allows us to get much broader view of the back of the eye, similar to opening up a door to take a look at a room. Unfortunately, this drop typically causes blurry vision at near as well as light sensitivity, for approximately two hours. Because of this, we usually recommend another driver accompany you, or using public transit following your appointment. Sunglasses will help with light sensitivity – we will provide you with a disposable pair if you do not have any. As mentioned, reading may be difficult for two hours or so following the drops. You may benefit from an off-the-shelf pair of reading glasses during this time or by removing your distance glasses if you are near-sighted. If dilation is not practical for you on the day of your eye exam, we are always happy to schedule a follow up appointment where we can complete that portion of the exam at a later date.

The eye is such an important, yet delicate organ. We understand everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to getting your eyes examined. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to us via phone or email.