What is a digital eye exam?

Essilor APH550 digital eye exam

What is a digital eye exam? A digital eye exam is similar to the old exam you’re used to, but many of the manual measurements and adjustments are now computed automatically.

In fact, you may have already had one without knowing it. Digital eye exams are showing up in optical shops and optometrists’ offices across the country.

With digital eye exams, the days of lowering the big, manual phoropter “mask” in front of your face are long gone — as are most of the lenses, switches and knobs your doctor had to use. Looking at a board full of letters and being asked “number one or number two?” is a reduced, simpler process when it’s performed digitally.

Old machines have been replaced by similar mask-shaped devices that appear more modern and minimally designed. These devices now do most of the measuring work internally.

Digital eye exams vs. traditional eye exams

The process of getting a digital eye exam is similar to that of a more traditional exam, particularly the refraction portion. The refraction test is what allows an eye doctor to find your optical prescription.

When a digital phoropter is lowered in front of you, it uses software to automatically produce an initial prescription. The optometrist will still tweak that result, but the starting line has moved forward — meaning a shorter refraction test.

Other digital devices ditch the mask-like device and instead have you rest your chin in front of a funnel-shaped machine with a lens in the middle. This also uses digital software to produce an accurate prescription, including the curvature of your cornea — useful for contact lens prescriptions.

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How much does a digital eye exam cost?

Since a digital eye exam usually takes the place of older equipment, there shouldn’t be any additional cost. Most vision insurance plans cover this type of test as they would any other eye exam.

Are digital eye exams accurate?

Vision manufacturers often claim their digital devices provide the most accurate optical measurements on the market. And this technology will only continue to advance over time.

For the time being, a thoroughly performed “manual” exam still has the potential to be just as accurate — assuming your optometrist spends enough time adjusting the specifics of your prescription.

Where can I get a digital eye exam?

Several vision chains and private optical offices now offer digital eye exams, but many still use traditional equipment as well. If you’re curious whether a specific practice uses this technology, just call ahead to find out.

LensCrafters locations are a popular choice for patients looking for digital eye exams; The company utilizes a proprietary digital system called Clarifye. The optical manufacturer Zeiss also offers similar devices as part of its Visuphor and i.Profiler lines.

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What else has gone digital in an eye exam?

Digital retinal imaging has made its presence known in a big way. These machines are now relatively popular with American optometrists.

Retinal imaging devices like Optomap provide a wide-angle view of the inside of your eye. This kind of insight lets optometrists spot anything unusual with your eyes’ internal blood vessels. It can lead to the early diagnosis of both optical conditions and non-optical diseases like stroke, diabetes and even certain cancers.

One of retinal imaging’s most significant patient perks is its ability to replace eye dilation. While dilation may still be necessary under certain circumstances, a digital retinal image can often be used in its place.

This can significantly reduce the amount of time you spend in an eye doctor's office. Not only does it eliminate the 30- to 45-minute wait for your pupils to dilate, it strikes out the blurry vision that sticks around for several hours afterward.

Digital eye exams are leading to shorter, more concise office visits.

READY FOR A DIGITAL EYE EXAM? Find an eye doctor near you and ask if they offer digital eye exams. Then schedule an appointment.

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