By Tina D. Turner, M.D., Updated by Sefy Paulose, M.D., March, 2022 As cataracts are usually slow to progress, you may not notice any signs until you are seen for your regularly scheduled annual eye examination. During this comprehensive medical eye examination, an ophthalmologist or optometrist will be able to assess your lens to see if you have a cataract.

Components of Eye Exam

A Health and Medication History

  • Your overall heath and that of your immediate family including your vision history
  • The medications you are taking (prescription and over-the-counter)
  • Questions about any other risk factors such as high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, smoking, and sun exposure

Visual Acuity Testing

a phoropter
  • Distance and near vision acuity tests to determine the sharpness or clarity of your reading and distance vision
  • Testing your vision with different lenses (sometimes contained in a machine called a phoropter, (pictured at right) to determine if your vision can be improved or corrected with regular glasses or contact lenses.

Visual Field Testing

  • To determine how much side (or peripheral) vision you have and how much surrounding area you can see.
  • The most common type of visual field test in a regular eye exam is called a confrontation field test, in which the doctor briefly flashes several fingers in each of the four quadrants of your visual field while seated opposite you.

An Eye Health Evaluation

  • Your doctor will use a special microscope called a slit lamp to examine the anterior segment of the eye (front third of the eyeball, including the cornea, pupil, iris, and lens. Your doctor will look for a yellowing of the lens, clefts/fissures, or white opacities that indicate the presence of cataracts.
  • Your doctor will conduct a dilated eye (or fundus) examination, which includes the use of special lenses will allow your doctor to see inside your eye and examine the retina. Your doctor might choose to use eye drops to see the retina and optic nerve more clearly. During this exam, the doctor will examine the back of your eye to see if your vision changes are truly caused by cataracts or something else.
  • A test of the fluid pressure (or aqueous humor) within your eyes.
Image of parts of the eye compliments of NEI. Includes optic nerve, vitreous gel, macula, fovea, retina, iris, cornea, pupil, lens, iris
Image of parts of the eye compliments of NEI

Bring your sunglasses!

Your eyes may be sensitive to light for a few hours after your exam. Sunglasses can help, so bring them if you have them! Your eye doctor may also have disposable sunglasses they can give you.
Please note: While an ophthalmologist or optometrist can diagnose a cataract, only an ophthalmologist is qualified to perform cataract surgery. An optometrist can also provide preoperative and postoperative care.