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Wondering if a contact lens exam is really necessary or how it’s different from a comprehensive eye exam? Keep reading for answers.
Let’s hope you already make annual trips to the eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam. But if you’re one of the estimated 45 million Americans who wear contact lenses, there’s another exam you should keep on the books: a yearly contact lens exam.
“It’s so important to have a yearly evaluation,“ says Mary Fazelian, O.D. She’s an optometrist at America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Niles, Illinois.
Contact lenses rest on your cornea, the sensitive outer layer of your eye. Any issues with contact lens fit or material can spell trouble for your eye health. That’s why it’s so important to make yearly contact lens exams part of your eye care routine.
Here’s a quick overview of contact lens exams as well as what to talk about with your optometrist during your next visit.
Have a question about your contact lenses or your eye health in general? The eye care specialists at America’s Best can help. Find an exam time that fits your schedule.
What Happens at an Annual Contact Lens Exam
Contact lens prescriptions generally expire every year. During your annual exam, your optometrist will check your vision, figure out your prescription, and measure your eyes to make sure the lenses fit properly.
To fit you for contact lenses, your optometrist will measure the basic structures in your eye. These include the cornea, pupil, iris, and tear film layers.
Your optometrist will also measure the curvature of your cornea. Astigmatism is when the eye’s curvature is shaped more like an oval, as opposed to round. There are specific contact lenses for people with astigmatism.
Next, they’ll select a brand and modality of contact lenses they think will be right for you. They’ll order a trial pair, which helps them — and you — see how they fit and feel.
“Once a lens is selected, I always order a trial pair,” Dr. Fazelian says. “That way, I can make sure my patient is comfortable with that lens.”
You wear that trial pair for about a week. This gives you a chance to make sure the lenses are a good fit.
“Contact lenses might feel like they fit well in the office,” Dr. Fazelian explains. “But they might feel different after you’ve worn the lens for a few hours or days.”
Before you leave the office, a technician will show you how to remove and care for the lenses. Press play for a quick how-to on removal:
You’ll also schedule a follow-up exam before leaving. During this next appointment, your optometrist will check how well you can see out of the trial lenses so they can finalize the prescription.
“We can check the patient’s vision with the contacts on,” Dr. Fazelian says. “Then we decide if we need to make any adjustments.”
To get an up-close view, your optometrist will likely use a microscope known as a slit lamp. A slit lamp shines a narrow, high-intensity beam of light toward your eye. But don’t worry: The bright light won’t hurt or damage your eyes. You’ll focus on the light while your optometrist checks your vision and the contact lens fit.
Hopefully, your eyes look healthy, your vision is good, and your lenses feel comfortable. “Every patient is different and requires individualized care,” she adds.
Contact Lens Exam vs. Comprehensive Eye Exam
During a comprehensive eye exam, your optometrist will ask you about your vision and general health. They’ll also give you a visual acuity test to determine how well you can see at various distances. Then they will check your basic eye structures.
“A comprehensive eye exam doesn’t automatically include a contact lens fitting,” Dr. Fazelian says.
But you can choose to do the fitting during your regular eye exam, she says. Whether you combine your exams or keep them separate, just make sure to get re-evaluated every year. Regular exams give your optometrist a chance to find possible eye issues before they cause problems.
“Your eyes might show signs of an issue even if you don’t feel any symptoms,” Dr. Fazelian says.
For example, some people who wear contact lenses get hypoxia. This happens when the cornea doesn’t get enough oxygen. Hypoxia is a common complication of extended wear lenses.
Hypoxia can cause severe issues. But it may not have noticeable symptoms at first. Your optometrist can spot signs of hypoxia and suggest a better lens choice for you.
And just as your eyeglass prescription can change, so can your contact lens prescription. Getting a contact lens exam annually will keep you seeing your best.
What to Talk About During Your Contact Lens Exam
A contact lens fitting is the perfect opportunity to ask your optometrist questions. They can walk you through the process of putting contacts in and taking them out. They can also teach you how to properly care for your lenses.
You might also talk with your optometrist about different contact lens types and replacement schedules. You know yourself best. If you know you’ll forget to clean your monthly contact lenses (known as monthlies) every night, speak up. Daily disposable contact lenses (known as dailies) may be a better choice for you. Here’s what you should know about each type of contact lens to help decide which is right for you.
You should also tell your optometrist if you have allergies. “I have seasonal allergies that arrive every year like clockwork,” Dr. Fazelian says. “Usually, I prefer monthly replacement lenses. But during peak allergy times, I opt for dailies.”
Your contact lens exam is all about finding the perfect fit for your eyes and lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re having an issue. It’s important to be open and honest with your optometrist, Dr. Fazelian says.