An online eye test may seem like a simple, convenient way to check your vision and update your eyeglass prescription. In fact, there are potential hazards with these online tests and the FDA has warned one of these online companies of potential regulatory action. Drs. Leong, Bui and Yan wish to increase awareness on some of these online companies.
What is an online eye test really testing?
An online eye test is actually not an eye test at all but just a vision or sight test - and a partial test at that. It is designed to measure your visual acuity and refractive error (nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism) and to determine an eyeglass prescription - which is the lens power needed to correct the refractive error in your vision.
Given that there is no one with medical training actually performing or checking the accuracy of the test, it is questionable how well the exam does even this. In fact, when an eye doctor does a refraction for glasses or contact lenses it also involves some judgement on the doctor’s part. The eye doctor will often adjust the prescription slightly based on the patient’s age, occupation or hobbies. The doctor may prescribe a prism in the lenses to help with binocularity and to prevent double vision in those who have deviations of the eye. Some prescriptions are difficult to adapt to, so certain adjustments to astigmatism power, or lens design are made to provide smoother adaptation to the new eye wear. Some conditions need special tints or coatings to aid vision. There is no way an online exam can do any of this.
Further, a refraction is only one very small part of an eye exam and if it takes the place of a regular comprehensive eye exam by an eye doctor, you put your eyes and vision at serious risk.
A Comprehensive Eye Exam - Where Online Tests Fail
Even if the eyes see clearly and you have 20/20 vision, there may still be vision problems or eye disease present even without pain, blurred vision or other symptoms. What the online eye test fails to measure is your complete visual health and capacity (beyond just visual acuity), the curvature of the eye (which is needed for accurate lens prescriptions- especially for contact lenses) and an assessment of the health of the eye itself.
Just as we need regular medical and dental checkups as a part of preventative health care to prevent disease and maintain our health, we also need regular eye exams. A vision test does not suffice. A comprehensive eye exam will examine much more than just how well you see. It will also check for visual processing, color vision, depth perception and proper eye movement. It will measure your eye pressure, examine the back of your eye and look for early signs of eye disease or conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetes, tumors and high blood pressure - many of which threaten your eyes and vision if not caught early.
If you do have some vision loss, the doctor will be able to determine if there is any serious underlying problem that is causing the disturbance in your vision. If you don’t have symptoms that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. Many serious eye conditions develop gradually without any symptoms. Some eye diseases do not affect the macula, and therefore you may still have good vision even though there is a problem (such as glaucoma, early dry macular degeneration, early cataract, diabetes, blood pressure and even tumors). Many of these conditions threaten the eyes and even general health if not caught early and when undetected they can cause permanent and irreversible damage to your vision
Eye exams are the best way to detect these early and treat them before they develop into serious eye problems.
Whether online vision tests are inaccurate, misleading or simply insufficient, they can fail to provide essential information and can delay or prevent vision saving treatments. Additionally, you could be walking around with the wrong vision prescription which can cause unnecessary eye strain, headaches and difficulty.
Will an Online Eye Test Really Save you Money?
No. Besides the fact that eye exams are covered by Alberta Health Care if you are under age 18 or over 65 years old. insurance, and that often work health insurance often covers eye exams, an optometrist is much more thorough and comprehensive than an online eye test, so you are not comparing apples to apples. There is simply no comparing this to a self administered online test on a computer screen that is touted as a time and money saver.
An eye exam is a medical procedure that requires training, precision, and proper equipment. Drs. Leong, Bui and Yan also take the time to provide professional recommendations to keep your eyes healthy for a lifetime. Consider how priceless are your eyes to you and your family.