Patient receiving retinal scan during comprehensive eye exam

What Is A Vision Screening & How Is It Different Than An Eye Exam?

You may have thought your latest vision screening told you the whole story about your eye health, but a screening is not the same as a comprehensive eye exam. A complete eye exam from an eye care professional is critical for your vision care and overall health. 

Let's delve into the differences between these two tests, including why a screening isn't a substitute for a comprehensive eye exam and when you should have a full exam. 

What is a standard vision screening?

  Also called an eye test or a vision test, this short exam identifies vision problems and eye disorders, but — and this is key — it's not meant to diagnose or treat those issues. Instead, a standard vision screening is meant to find people who might have eye problems, so they can then see an eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam. 

This screening tool is commonly used with school-age children at pediatricians' offices to identify eye conditions, including amblyopia (lazy eye) or strabismus (crossed eyes). When found early, treatment for these eye conditions may prevent vision loss. 

While routine screenings aren't recommended in adults, vision tests that determine how well you see (or your visual acuity) are common in the U.S. When obtaining a driver's license, vision tests are often performed when they are issued or reissued. You might also encounter screenings at your primary care doctor's office or at health events held by hospitals or community groups. Again, just as with kids, these screenings can help identify problems, but they do not diagnose or treat them. 

What do vision screenings test for?

Vision screenings can include different types of exams, such as one or more of the following: 

  • Close-up vision test: This test can be given to both children and adults, but it is often given to people aged 40 or older to examine if their close-up vision is worsening. 

  • Color blindness test: Given to both children and adults, this test can help determine if a person is colorblind. 

  • Visual acuity test: This can be given to children and adults to help determine their distance vision. 

  • Visual acuity test for preschoolers: This is just like the regular distance vision test but is adjusted for non-readers. 

These tests often utilize the Snellen chart, the familiar, standard eye chart you might have seen in school nurses' or doctors’ offices. This chart contains big and little letters arranged in rows or columns, which helps eye care professionals determine how well you see shapes and letters. 

What is a comprehensive eye exam? 

Comprehensive eye exams are important because they can help find medical problems that have no signs or symptoms, eye-related or not. Comprehensive eye exams can find early warning signs of some270 systemic and chronic diseases, including cancers, heart disease, and diabetes.  

The sooner these are diagnosed, the better your treatment and recovery odds. They can also catch eye diseases like glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), early on helping prevent blindness. 

How do these exams help doctors identify so many other issues that aren't always related to your eyes? Through your dilated eyes, your doctor can see key blood vessels and the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, helping your doctor visualize issues that can have telling first signs in the eye

What do comprehensive eye exams test for?

During a comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor might do all (or some) of the following: 

Measure your visual acuity. Your eye doctor will use an eye chart to determine how well you see. 

Take your medical history. Your doctor will want to know about your vision and health, including your family medical history, any medications you use, and if you have corrective lenses 


Examine all parts of the eye and its mobility. This might include looking at specific aspects of your visual function and eye health. Your eye doctor will use a slit lamp microscope to examine your eyes (and even eyelids). Dilating eye drops will help your doctor see into your eye for any signs of disease. 

Use other tools. Depending on your individual eye health needs, your doctor might use other tests to determine if you have other eye problems. 

Essentially, a vision screening isn't enough to take care of either your eyes or your overall health. Schedule a comprehensive state-of-the-art eye exam with The EyeDoctors today! 

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