What did my doctor just say? Common terms your eye doctor will use and what they mean

Courtesy of riekhavoc (caughtup?) on Flickr

Courtesy of riekhavoc (caughtup?) on Flickr

Have you ever felt like you were not quite sure what just happened at your optometrist’s office? It is difficult enough to answer the “which is better, one or two?” questions and then at the end of the exam to try and understand the doctor’s explanations with difficult optometry terms without secretly worrying that you might have said something wrong!

Hopefully this blog will help you better understand some of the more common terms we use in our examinations.

1) First of all, most comprehensive exams will include a detailed case history. The doctor will want to know your family medical and ocular (eye) history. Some terms you may hear include the most common eye diseases – cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

  • Cataract is the term used when the natural lens of your eye becomes cloudy, causing blurred and distorted vision.
  • Glaucoma is the eye disease that causes your eye to have excessively high pressure, which can lead to long-term damage of the nerve in the eye.
  • Macular degeneration is a disease that affects your central or straight ahead vision.

Not only will the optometrist ask you about a family history of any of these conditions, they will also assess your eye health and your possible risk for developing any of them.

2) Next, the optometrist will perform a refraction to get you the best possible glasses or contacts that will correct your vision.

  • A refraction is just the process of determining for each individual what are the best lenses to give you maximum visual clarity and comfort at both distance and near.
  • Myopia – nearsightedness or the ability to see better at near than at far.
  • Hyperopia or farsightedness, really means that it is more difficult to focus at near and at far distances.
  • Astigmatism: this refers to the shape of the front surface of the eye being more football shaped rather than basketball shaped.

3) There are a few terms you might hear specifically in an child’s exam.

  • Pursuits: slow, smooth eye tracking.
  • Saccades: fast reading eye tracking.
  • Accommodation: focusing.
  • Binocularity: the ability of the eyes to work together as a team.

4) Finally, there are some terms regarding glasses that it might help to define.

  • Progressive lenses are the kind of “no line bifocal” that you might hear about on TV. But, unlike a bifocal, where there are two areas of vision, near and far, progressives have an unlimited amount of areas as you look from distance to near in the lens.
  • Transition lenses are the kind that change to dark outside. They undergo an anti-reflective treatment, which eliminates all glare and allows for crisper vision, especially at night.

Hopefully, this quick explanation helps with some of the confusing terms in an eye exam. As for any others, always ask your optometrist to explain something that does not make sense.

~Lisa Weiss, OD, MEd, FCOVD
California Optometric Association
http://www.coavision.org