Sight Test Or Eye Exam
What's The Difference?

Do you know what the difference is between an eye exam and a sight test?

The meaning of eachof these terms is dependent upon your location: countries, even provinces or states may differe in what is actually meant by each of these procedures.

Most people use the terms interchangeably. In many places, there are only eye examinations available, and automated refractions are not legal. In some countries, for example the U.K., an eye exam is also called a sight test. But in some provinces, like British Columbia, Canada, there is an difference between sight tests and eye exams. The terminology can be confusing, so we will discuss it here.

A sight test may also be called an automated refraction, or a vision test.

What Is An Eye Exam?

An eye examination is performed by either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. The test covers health issues, as well as a refraction for eyeglasses. A eye exam will check the health of the eye, for any disorders or diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and dry eyes. For those with diabetes or high blood pressure, the doctor will also check to ensure there are no adverse eye problems caused by these diseases. For example, diabetics will be checked for diabetic retinopathy, the interior health of the eye is checked, as well as the ocular surfaces such as the cornea and the conjunctiva. At the end of the eye exam, if necessary, the doctor will discuss any health issues you have, and give you a prescription if you want to get eyeglasses. If you want contact lenses, you will need a further exam called a contact lens fitting. An eye exam will not necessarily provide you with a contact news prescription or parameters. See our page on contact lens fittings here.

What is A Sight Test?

A sight test is offered in places such as British Columbia, Canada. It is performed by an optician who has gone through specific training to perform an automated refraction. An optician is not a doctor, and cannot make health assessments of the eye, or diagnose health conditions. This  type of test will screen for certain eye diseases and family history of disease; if any are present, you will be referred to an optometrist or ophthalmologist. A vision test in BC can be performed on healthy adults between the ages of 19 and 64. Seniors and minors must see an optometrist or ophthalmologist, unless requested by one of these doctors to see an optician for a sight test only.

Regulations For Automated Refractions

Refractions for vision are regulated by government authorities, and differ between countries, states and provinces. Most places require that doctors of optometry or ophthalmologists perform refractions; however, some governments have allowed specially trained opticians to perform refractions, as long as they follow a specified regimen, and make it very clear that they are NOT performing a health exam.

As Always, Buyer Beware

There are some unscrupulous opticians who refract, but refrain from informing the patient that they are not optometrists or doctors, and are not performing an eye health exam. It is a requirement of legislation that opticians inform their patients of this fact, but it is not uncommon that this information is buried, not obvious, or not there at all. Any time you get an evaluation of your eyes make sure you know whether the eye health is being checked. We have seen an number of angry customers who feel they were manipulated at best when they went in for an "eye exam" (as posted in the window), when all they really got was a vision test.

Are Sight Tests Good Enough?

For many people with no health issues, who just want to update their eyeglasses or get contact lenses, an automated refraction is less expensive and may be more convenient than having a full eye health evaluation done. As long as you are confident that you do not need to worry about any health issues, a vision test can provide you with an accurate assessment of your eyes. Opticians who perform automated refractions are also required to retest within a reasonable amount of time (usually within a month or two) at no extra charge if you are having problems with the assessment. We do recommend that if you haven't had a full health exam int the last 5 years, you should have a full eye health exam and not a sight test.

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