Protecting your vision is crucial, and regular testing can help you spot problems in your eyes that indicate something has gone wrong.
At home, you can check your:
But at-home testing will only take you so far. A trained professional can examine structures deep within your eyes, and the tests you'll take in a doctor's office you just can't replicate at home. (Learn more)
Pen & Paper: Test Your Vision
You've been squinting lately, and despite your best efforts, you're struggling to see clearly. Do you need a new pair of lenses?
A visual acuity test can give you the answer. You can take a crude version of this exam at home.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology provides eye testing charts you can download and print out. In addition to that chart, you'll need:
- Something to cover one eye. A paper cup, a washcloth, or a piece of facial tissue work well.
- A measurement device. You'll need a tape measure, yardstick, or ruler.
- Something sticky. You'll need to tack the chart on the wall and ensure it stays put.
- A spot to sit. You'll need a chair to sit on during the exam.
- A helper. It's very difficult to perform this test without assistance.
With all of your items gathered, tack the printout to the wall at your eye level when you're sitting in a chair. Use the measuring device and mark off 10 feet. Put your chair in that spot.
Cover one eye, and read the smallest text you can see. Take your time, but don't guess or cheat. The accuracy of the test relies on the words you say during the test, so it pays to be honest.
When you've read the smallest line you can see, look to the side. A tiny number written next to that line is a measurement of your acuity.
Take a Quiz: What Is Your Risk?
Do you need to visit an eye doctor now, or can you wait for a month or two? This is a question best answered by a professional, but an at-home test can help you understand how urgently you might need help.
Prevent Blindness has a 10-question, downloadable quiz you can use to determine your risk of imminent illness. The more times you answer "yes," the higher your risk of a health problem.
You won't need any special tools or measurements to take this test. But you will need to know a little about your family history of eye problems, and you'll need to remember when you last visited an eye doctor. The test comes with explanatory text that can help explain your risks based on your answers.
Look in the Mirror: Assess Your Eyes
We often think about determining eye health by measuring how well we can see. But you can also determine quite a bit about your eyes by simply observing them in a mirror.
Prevent Blindness says these shifts in eye appearance could indicate an underlying health problem:
- Changes in the color of your iris
- Eyelids that are swollen, red, or crusty
- Squinty eyes
- Watery eyes
You should see these changes with nothing more than a mirror and a bright light. If you see a problem, make an appointment to talk with a doctor.
Visit a Doctor: A Definitive Answer
While there are plenty of things you can do at home to monitor your eye health, no DIY technique can take the place of a visit with a trained professional.
During an eye exam, your doctor can check your visual acuity, just as you might do at home. But as Cigna explains, your doctor does much more during comprehensive eye exams. These happen once per year or once every two years.
These exams give your doctor a full picture of your eye health, and they can ensure you get treatment for issues when they are new and less likely to cause persistent problems.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology says your doctor will check these issues during your exam:
- Pupil responsiveness: Your doctor shines a bright light into your eyes and away again to ensure that your pupils are working as they should.
- Ocular motility: Your doctor ensures that you can move your eyes smoothly and that they function in tandem with one another.
- Eye pressure: This glaucoma screening test ensures that fluid is moving out of your eye properly.
- Cornea health: Your doctor uses a special microscope to check the clear front part of your eye.
- Retina and optic nerve: Your doctor will dilate your eyes and then examine the back of your eye. These are structures you simply can't see at home, and damage to them can steal your vision.
If your doctor spots a problem during your screening test, follow-up procedures can provide more information. Your doctor can also offer prescriptions that can amend problems in your eyes.
If you test your eyes at home, bring the results with you to your examination to discuss with the doctor. But never think that the work you do in your home can replace the work of a trained professional. Eye exams are much more comprehensive when performed by professionals.
Home Eye Test for Children and Adults. (December 2016). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
What's Your Risk of a Vision Problem? Prevent Blindness.
Signs of Eye Problems in Adults. Prevent Blindness.
What Happens During an Eye Exam? (July 2018). Cigna.
Eye Exam and Vision Testing Basics. (December 2018). American Academy of Ophthalmology.