Blog Hero

Eye Exams vs. Vision Tests: What’s The Difference?

Book Appointment
A female optician is doing an acuity test on her male patient. An optician is pointing to a Snellen chart while the patient is calling out what is pointed on the Snellen chart

Eye exams and vision tests are vital for assessing your eye function and health. Sometimes, these can be confused for the same thing, but there are significant differences between them.

An eye exam is a comprehensive evaluation of your vision and health conducted by an eye doctor (optometrist or ophthalmologist). In comparison, a vision test is a simplified assessment of visual acuity typically done by a school nurse or a family doctor. 

Understanding the difference between these two can help ensure you receive the appropriate level of care for your eyes to maintain optimal vision. 

What Is an Eye Exam?

Even without noticeable eye issues, you should have regular eye exams to evaluate your vision and ocular health. Eye exams can check for early detection of eye conditions and help monitor eye diseases, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration

A  male optometrist is a slit lamp during an eye exam on a female patient

Eye Exam Procedure

Before an eye exam, your eye doctor will typically discuss the following:

  • Family history of eye disease
  • Medical history
  • Whether you take or are allergic to any medications
  • If you had eye surgery
  • Your lifestyle and habits
  • Whether you wear glasses or contact lenses
  • Vision concerns you had in the past or have now

 Tests conducted during a comprehensive exam can include:

  • Visual acuity measures your vision at varying distances. 
  • Eye muscle function evaluates the muscles that control eye movement.
  • Visual field test checks your peripheral vision. 
  • Refraction assessment shines light into the eye to see if it focuses correctly on the retina (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye). If the light is focused in front or behind the retina, it can indicate a refractive error
  • Color vision test to check for color deficiency.
  • Slit lamp to examine parts of the eye, such as the eyelids, cornea, iris, and lens of the eye. 
  • Dilation evaluates the retina, the optic nerve, and blood vessels at the back of the eye. 
  • Tonometry measures fluid pressure inside the eye to detect glaucoma. 
  • Binocular test to see how well your eyes work together. 

How Often Should You Have an Eye Exam?

Your age, family history of eye conditions, and risk of developing eye problems usually determine the frequency of eye exams:

For Babies & Children

  • Babies can have their first eye exam as young as 6 months
  • One eye exam between 3 and 5 years of age. 
  • One eye exam before a child starts kindergarten.
  • An eye exam every 1 to 2 years for school-aged children or as recommended. 

For Adults

  • Once every 2 years for adults between 18 and 60 years or as recommended. 
  • Annually for adults over 61 years or as recommended. 

What Is a Vision Test?

Vision tests or vision screening are basic tests to detect eye or vision issues. It’s a quick test, but without specialized equipment, there are limits to what it can diagnose, such as eye diseases. And if a problem is detected, you’d need to see an eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam. 

A vision test typically only measures distance vision by looking at letters or symbols on a Snellen vision chart. It is often a part of a routine physical examination or a school-based screening. 

Because it’s not as extensive as an eye exam, it can’t diagnose any underlying eye conditions. Tests conducted during a vision screening can include:

  • Visual acuity with a chart placed 20 feet away to check distance vision by covering one eye at a time and can be used to screen children over 3 and adults. It fails to check near vision or problems with eye movement. 
  • Eye and pupil inspection can check the shape and color of the eyes and how the pupils react to light.  
  • Photoscreening uses a special camera to identify refractive errors and other abnormalities in the eye. The test is automated, fast, easy, and used in community group screenings. A professional eye doctor can interpret the results if necessary.

Choose Comprehensive Eye Exams

Eye exams and vision tests serve different purposes. Eye exams are essential in maintaining good eye health and vision and can detect early signs of eye conditions. So, there is no replacement for a comprehensive eye exam. 

Not all eye problems present with symptoms. If you’re overdue for a comprehensive eye exam, book an appointment with McCauley Celin Eyecare Associates today. 

Dr. Caitlin McCauley

Written by Dr. Caitlin McCauley

Dr. Caitlin “Caity” McCauley has been interested in optometry since she was 15 years old. In high school, she started at the family practice as an optometric assistant and never looked back.

Dr. McCauley graduated top 10 in her class at Ohio State University, first in 2003 with her Bachelor of Science and then in 2007 with her Doctorate of Optometry. She completed rotations in ocular disease and contact lenses, as well as externships at the Dayton VA hospital and with LASIK specialists in Canton, Ohio.

With a particular interest and passion for pediatric vision, Dr. McCauley remains the practice’s resident authority on children’s eye care, including myopia control. Supporting and interacting with her incredible patients brings Dr. McCauley a strong sense of fulfillment in her work.

More Articles By Dr. Caitlin McCauley

Our Services


Our Locations


We’re located on Brooktree Road in the Brooktree Center Office Park. If you have trouble finding us, please give us a call.

  • 1000 Brooktree Rd. Suite 300
  • Wexford, PA 15090

Closed for lunch 12:45 pm to 1:45 pm


Find us just off Perry Highway next to Allegheny North Veterinary Hospital. Please give us a call if you have any trouble locating our office.

  • 956 Perry Hwy.
  • Pittsburgh, PA 15237

Closed for lunch 12:45 pm to 1:45 pm


Our practice is located just off William Flinn Highway. Give us a call if you have any problems finding us.

  • 5450 William Flinn Hwy.
  • Gibsonia, PA 15044

Closed for lunch 12:45 pm to 1:45 pm

View Our Brands

We carry a variety of fashion-forward brands, so you’re sure to find a pair of glasses that suit your style and vision needs. Once we determine your prescription, our friendly and knowledgeable opticians will help you find the perfect frames and fit for you.

lamarca logo
faceface logo
Oliver Peoples logo
lafont logo
instagram facebook facebook2 pinterest twitter google-plus google linkedin2 yelp youtube phone location calendar share2 link star-full star star-half chevron-right chevron-left chevron-down chevron-up envelope fax