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What's the Difference Between an Eye Exam and a Contact Lens Exam?

What's the Difference Between an Eye Exam and a Contact Lens Exam?


Optometrist helping patient with eye exam

Most of us know we need to have regular comprehensive eye exams to detect and correct vision problems as early as possible and also to check for eye diseases. But what many people don’t realize is that if they want to have contact lenses, they need a different type of exam that includes specific tests and assessments designed especially for contact lens wearers. You can’t skip these exams; they’re critical for ensuring your lenses fit properly and provide you with great vision, and they can also determine if contact lenses are a good choice based on your eye health and other factors. But how do the two types of exams differ?

Comprehensive Eye Exam vs. Contact Lens Exam

Comprehensive eye exams and contact lens exams do have some similarities. For instance, both exams evaluate your vision to determine the right prescription for your needs. During these assessments, the eye doctor will use special equipment to determine how well you see at different distances, how well your eyes work together, how well your pupils respond to light, and other vision evaluations. Based on all those measurements, the doctor will be able to determine the prescription you need for clear vision.

In a comprehensive eye exam, the eye doctor uses additional assessments to look for subtle signs of eye disease, even before they cause any symptoms. Routine comprehensive eye exams are important for diagnosing serious diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration that can cause damage to your eye’s internal structures even before they cause vision loss. During a comprehensive exam, the doctor will dilate your pupils using special drops to make it easier to see the structures inside your eye, including the light-sensitive retina at the back of your eye and the optic nerve. Dilation is important for assessing tiny changes that occur during the initial stages of many eye diseases so treatment can begin right away. Plus, the doctor will measure the pressure inside your eye, one of the symptoms of glaucoma.

In a contact lens exam, your eye doctor will spend more time evaluating and measuring your cornea, the clear covering of your eye. Your contact lenses will rest on top of your cornea, so the doctor will carefully assess the cornea for any unusual aspects of shape, scratches or other issues that could make contact lenses uncomfortable or ineffective. At Eye Site, our team uses computer technology to accurately measure the curvature of your cornea to ensure your lenses rest comfortably and securely on the surface of your eye. This portion of your contact lens evaluation is especially critical for ensuring you get the results you’re looking for with your contact lenses.

Depending on your eye health and other factors, the doctor also may use a special device to “map” the surface of your cornea. Corneal mapping is often performed for people with astigmatism and for those with issues like steep corneas. Corneal measurements can also help determine the type of lens you need, including special toric lenses designed for people with astigmatism.

The Bottom Line

The evaluations performed in a comprehensive eye exam differ from those performed during a contact lens exam, but there's another major difference between the two types of exams: While you only need to have a contact lens exam if you want to wear contact lenses, everyone (kids and adults) should have a comprehensive eye exam on a regular basis - usually every one to three years, depending on your age and your risk factors. And if you do wear contacts, you should have a contact lens exam every year to make sure your lenses fit and work as well as possible and to make sure your corneas stay healthy. One more thing to bear in mind: You can have a contact lens exam and a comprehensive eye exam during the same office visit to make it easier to fit your exams into your busy schedule.

Eye Exams in Houston and Katy

Whether you need a comprehensive eye exam or a contact lens exam, at Eye Site, we can help. Our doctors are skilled in helping patients enjoy the best possible vision and healthiest eyes at every age, with state-of-the-art equipment and advanced diagnostic and treatment techniques designed to provide truly patient-centered, customized solutions. If you've been thinking about contact lenses but you're just not sure if they're right for you or your lifestyle, we can provide you with the information and guidance you need to feel confident in your decision. To get started, call Eye Site's Houston location at 713-984-9144 or our Katy office 281-644-2010 at and schedule an eye exam and consultation today.


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