Getting the Most Out of an Eye Exam

About Sarah Blake LaRose

Sarah Blake LaRose is a freelance writer and a professor of Biblical Hebrew at Anderson University School of Theology in Anderson, Indiana. She is one of three blind academic scholars who received the Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind in 2016 in recognition of innovative work in the field of access to biblical language texts and tools for people who are blind.

For many people, visits to the ophthalmologist are stressful times. This is especially true if the person being examined is a child or if children are along for the trip. People may find themselves forgetting important information or instructions or realizing later that they have forgotten to ask a question. Following are some tips for getting the most out of these visits.

Before the Examination

Consider the type of doctor you need to see.

If you need new glasses or refractive surgery, an optometrist will best be able to serve you. If you are having symptoms, an ophthalmologist will be able to provide the full array of diagnostic and treatment services. If you are seeking treatment for a known eye condition, you may need the services of a doctor specializing in this area of treatment.

Ensure a timely and stress-free arrival.

If you are visiting this doctor for the first time, write down the address and clear directions to the office. This will minimize the possibility of getting lost. If you have a GPS unit, use tit to give you an even better chance of arriving stress-free. If this is your first visit, plan to arrive early in order to give yourself time to fill out new patient forms.

If you are visually impaired, or if you will be having a procedure done after which driving will not be possible, arrange for transportation. Allow time for driver tardiness and locating the office.

Gather important records.

If you are seeing a new eye doctor, it can be helpful for the doctor to see copies of previous records concerning any related treatment you have had or documentation of a progressive condition. This can be accomplished through signing releases or provision of copies if you have them in your possession.

Make a list of any symptoms which are of concern to you.

Symptoms worth mentioning to the doctor may include but are not limited to watering eyes, itching, burning, feeling that something is in the eye, seeing strange things, not seeing things you should be seeing, pain, swelling, etc. Even if a symptom comes and goes, you should mention it. Some of the most troubling symptoms are the ones that people do not mention because they think that perhaps the symptoms will go away.

Make sure that children will be comfortable.

It is important for children to be comfortable during lengthy car rides to visit eye specialists, especially if their eyes hurt–the eyes are some of the most sensitive parts of the body. It is also important that children have comforting objects to hold during the exam, which can be traumatic at various points and can also leave them sitting and waiting for periods of time. Young children may need help entertaining themselves. Older children may just need something to do for a while.

If you are taking a child for an exam or being accompanied by a child, pack a small bag of items you will need. These may include bottles, diapers, medical supplies related to other conditions, and toys. Often you will have to wait some time before you are seen, especially if you are seeing a well-known doctor. Talk with your child about what will happen during the exam and why. It is important that a child not be startled by people intruding on the face.

Gather medical information.

Your doctor will need a list of any medications you take regularly, including dosages. Even medications that you take by mouth for other conditions can have side effects that are related to your eyes. On the day of your appointment, note the time when you
take your medication. If you have had eye surgeries, note the type of surgery and the date. If you are seeing the doctor for the first time, this information will be required for your records. Be sure to take your insurance card(s) and prescription lenses with you!

Take notes.

Take notes about what the doctor tells you and his answers to your questions. If you are unable to write them on paper, take an audio recorder to the appointment. Often doctors will not mind speaking into a recorder if they understand that your purpose in recording is to provide yourself with some notes to refer to later.

During the Exam

Make careful notes about any instructions given to you by the doctor.

The doctor may instruct you in how to take your medication, care for your corrective lenses, or prepare for any surgical treatment available to you. Following these instructions will enable you to protect your eyes and vision most effectively.

Ask questions.

  • Ask about the results of the exam, stability of your condition, possible complications, etc.
  • If treatment is proposed, ask questions about the risks and benefits, side effects of medications, recovery period following surgery, and alternatives.
  • Ask about low vision devices which may improve your vision. You may find it beneficial to obtain a referral to a low vision specialist.

Relax while the doctor is examining you.

This may be much easier said than done, but relaxing can make the exam much more tolerable.

Seek information about additional services.

Ask about information and support resources in the community, agencies or people who provide training in working with low vision or other alternative techniques, etc.

Recognize the limited scope of medical services.

Do not assume that the doctor is able to provide appropriate information about your need for services such as orientation and mobility instruction or advice about whether or not you should learn braille or use other alternative modes of reading. All eye care professionals are not knowledgeable about the day-to-day impact of low vision. Furthermore, how well a person can read the eye chart does not necessarily reflect how well he/she will be able to read over a long period of time using different colors or fonts.

After the Appointment

Note whether follow-up appointments are necessary, and if possible, make one.

Follow-up care is very important. Routine eye care can enable early detection of conditions which can be treated. Follow-up care after treatment can enable the treating physician to monitor your progress and treat any complications which may occur. Unless you have need of a second opinion or are relocating, it is best to use the services of the physician who first provided treatment if you have recently had services. If you change physicians, be sure that your previous physician communicates with the new one about your history and current condition.

Follow all instructions given by your doctor until instructed by him to stop.

Medications are prescribed for specific purposes depending on your individual needs. Some may be prescribed for short periods of time; others may be necessary for a much longer period, even a lifetime. If you experience problems which you believe are related to using a specific medication, discuss them with the treating physician so that an alternative treatment can be found which can meet your needs.

Note any questions you think of later.

It is not uncommon to think of questions after returning home from an eye exam. You may be able to call and ask them or discuss them at your next appointment. Alternatively, you may find the answers using other resources.

Do your homework.

Educate yourself about your condition, treatments, blindness and visual impairment, and resources available to you for support and assistance.

Respect your own need for information and dignity.

Some people report feeling uncomfortable with a physician or not receiving satisfactory answers to their questions. Remember that being treated with respect and understanding your condition are your rights. If you desire a second opinion or need to see another specialist, ask for a referral. If you wish to look at your records, you should be permitted to do so. Most physicians’ offices will provide you with your own copies. They may charge a fee to cover the costs of copying.

Points to Remember

Doctors are individuals.

All doctors do not have the same philosophy about treatment and benefits, especially when the person has severe low vision. If you feel uncomfortable or that you have not been treated with respect or given an accurate diagnosis and information, a second opinion may be warranted.

Blindness is a low-incidence disability, even in the eye doctor’s office.

Not all doctors are accustomed to seeing people who are blind or have low vision. They may be unaware of resources which can help you. Doing your homework is vital.

Doctors may need your help.

If your doctor is unaware of resources, offer to compile a list or information packet for him. You will be helping him to help others who may be much like yourself.

Medications have side effects.

Eye medications can have side effects which affect other parts of the body. Not all doctors realize this. To minimize side effects, apply gentle pressure to the tear duct for one minute after applying eye drops. If side effects are extremely unpleasant, consult your prescribing doctor about an alternative medication.

Obtaining copies of your records may be wise.

Having your own copies on file ensures that you will be able to look at them while doing your own research. It also ensures that the records will always be available when you see a new doctor. This is particularly important if you have an existing eye condition. Most doctor’s offices destroy records if a patient has not been seen for a certain number of years.

You are most aware of your own needs, and because of this you are your best advocate.

Use all sources of information and support in making decisions about treatment, and be involved in and proactive regarding your own care. This will enable you to feel much more comfortable with your care and your life.

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