The 15-Second Eye Test You Should Do Every Week

What's one thing your eye doctor does to spot their own vision problems? This quick-and-simple eye test! Here’s how it works.

Woman covering one eye with a hand mirror.

No matter your personality, one of your eyes is likely type A: strong, work-obsessed, and achievement-oriented.

Most of us have a dominant eye, called ocular dominance, that carries the bulk of your visual load, says Elizabeth Walsh Czirr, O.D., an optometrist with Nashville Regional Eyecare, located inside an America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses.

Your brain favors that eye over the other. This is completely normal, but sometimes the stronger eye pulls so much weight that vision problems in the weaker eye go unnoticed.

“If that ocular dominance is strong enough,” says Dr. Czirr, “it could overshadow any changes to the other eye, leading someone to not notice a large shift in vision.”

Dr. Czirr has seen this for herself: One of her patients had a dense cataract. Another had a macular hole in one eye, and still another had a retinal detachment. “It was several months before the patients even realized there was a problem,” she says, “because the stronger eye was doing all the work.”

If only there was a simple DIY eye test that could help you spot problems in your weaker eye while there was still time to slow, stop, or even reverse them.

Good news: There is, and it barely takes 15 seconds of your time.

How the DIY Eye Test Works

Cover one eye and look around. (Keep your contact lenses in or glasses on, if you wear them.) Check out the view from the window, pick up a piece of mail, zero in on a sign or something across the room. The idea is to see what you can, well, see.

Before switching sides, put your open eye through some quick drills. Pick one or two of the following each week.

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Eye Test Drill No. 1: Look at a Grid

This is a good way to check your central vision, which lets you see objects straight ahead, like your BFF, your favorite book, or oncoming traffic. Take a sheet of graph paper and hold it at eye level. If the lines appear missing, wavy, or distorted, that’s a big hint that there might be damage to the macula, or the center part of your retina.

In fact, the Amsler grid, which has a small dot in the center, is often given to patients for home monitoring of macular changes.

Eye Test Drill No. 2: Read the Fine Print

It’s possible to be farsighted in just one eye. Or, if you already have a prescription for farsightedness, one eye could be getting worse. “A person can have any combination of prescriptions between their eyes,” says Dr. Czirr.

Adults who are comfortable reading a book, magazine, or their smartphone with both eyes open may not need to fix vision in the weaker eye. “I usually tell them it’s the difference between regular vision and ‘HD vision,’” she says.

But in children, it’s very important to correct the imbalance: Otherwise, the child can develop a lazy eye, a condition called amblyopia.

Eye Test Drill No. 3: Watch TV

Likewise, you could be more nearsighted in one eye. So be sure to do the test for both near and far away. Flip on the menu guide channel and see how well you can read the words.

Eye Test Drill No. 4: Check Your Periphery

This can be tricky—most people are sensitive only to big changes in their peripheral vision. But doing this challenge a few times can help you figure out your baseline.

Cover one eye, look straight ahead, and then try to notice your surroundings (up, down, left, and right). Repeat on the other eye, comparing the two. If you’re not seeing much from the corner of your eye, this can be red flag that your optic nerve might be damaged.

Eye Test Drill No. 5: Try It at Night

Repeating the main test at night while you’re in a car (not driving!) may help you spot early signs of a cataract, which is a clouding of your eye’s lens. That’s because cataracts often amplify the glare from headlights or streetlamps at night, says Chalise Francisco, O.D., an optometrist with Nashville Regional Eyecare, located inside an America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Bartlett, Tenn.

Francisco says that this is especially important if you’re in your 50s or 60s, which is around the time that many cataracts start to appear and when prevention measures can really help.

Bottom line: If you spot any significant differences, it’s a good reason to book an eye exam ASAP.

Did You Know? Only half of the 61 million U.S. adults at high risk for vision loss have annual eye exams. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vision Health Initiative)