Hospital eye examinations

If your optician thinks you may have an eye condition, they or your GP will refer you to see a doctor called an ophthalmologist at an outpatient clinic of your local hospital.

Before your appointment

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There are a few things to note before your appointment to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.

  • Arrange transport

Ask a friend or family member to drive you to your appointment, use public transport or get a taxi. You may need to have drops in your eyes (to dilate your pupils and let your doctor look into the back of your eyes) which will affect your sight temporarily. You will not be able to have these drops if you are driving home. If you have mobility difficulties and struggle with transport, your hospital may have transport services which can help. Ask your GP if there is a service like this in your area.

  • Things to bring with you to your appointment
    • Your appointment letter
    • A list of your current medications including any eye drops
    • Any glasses or contact lenses that you currently wear
    • Your glasses or contact lens prescription (this is available from your optician)
    • Your diary or a list of dates when you will not be available so you can book dates and times for any follow up appointments you may need
    • A list of questions you want to ask your ophthalmologist. Write the list in large thick black pen (like a felt tip) as your vision may be blurry from the dilation drops. For some examples of questions you may want to ask, see our list below.
    • A pen and paper in case you want to make any notes of what your ophthalmologist has said
    • Anything else specified on your appointment letter – be sure to read it carefully
  • Let the clinic know if you have hearing problems or English is not your first language. They can organise for an interpreter to be at your appointment (including a sign interpreter).
  • Consider whether you would like a friend or relative to come with you to support you.

During your appointment

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When you arrive, let the receptionist know you are there, and remind them of any additional requirements you have (e.g. English is not your first language, you have hearing problems, or you have difficulties with moving around) even if you have let them know in advance. They will check your details and then you will be told where to wait.

You may see a number of different healthcare professionals on the day who will conduct different tests and examinations. Usually, you will first be called by a nurse who will check how clear your vision is with a letter chart. You may then be seen by a number of different people for different tests and examinations depending on the eye condition you are there for. See our Common eye tests page for information about some of the tests you may have on the day.

After your vision tests, you may have a dilated eye exam, where you will be given some drops in your eyes which will dilate your pupils and make it easier for the ophthalmologist to examine the back of your eyes. These drops usually take approximately 20 to 30 minutes to take effect. Your eyes will usually be examined then using a slit lamp.

During your consultation you will also be asked about your general health and about the eye problems you are having. The doctor will also want to know any medication you are currently taking.

After all of the tests have been completed your ophthalmologist will discuss your eye condition with you and explain any treatment options or further tests that may be needed. You will have an opportunity at this point to ask any questions you may have.

Questions to ask your ophthalmologist

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You may have lots of questions you want to ask your ophthalmologist, or you may not know where to start. Below are a few questions which it may be helpful to ask:

  • What is the name of my condition? 

Ask your ophthalmologist to write it down so you have the correct spelling in case you want to do any research when you get home.

  • What causes the condition?
  • What can I expect to happen to my vision - in the short-term and the long-term?
  • What are my treatment options? 

Ask your ophthalmologist to write these down so you have the correct spelling in case you want to do any research when you get home.

  • What is the goal of the treatment?
  • Are there any complications or side-effects of these treatments?
  • What are the success rates of the treatments?
  • What will happen if I don’t have treatment?
  • What treatments would you choose if you were me?
  • How will I know if the treatment is working?
  • Are there any changes I can make myself which will help (e.g. diet, exercise)?
  • Are there any low vision aids (like a magnifier) which would help?
  • Am I eligible for clinical trials for potential new treatments?
  • Who can I contact if I have more questions once I get home?
  • What support can I get with this condition (e.g. local support groups, social services).
  • Do I qualify to be certified as sight impaired?
  • Will I be referred to an Eye Clinic Liaison Officer (ECLO) who can help me source support going forwards?
  • Am I at risk of any other eye diseases?
  • Can I still drive?
  • Are there any activities I should avoid?
  • Do you have any information leaflets about my condition which I can take home?
  • Should my family members also be tested for this condition?

After your appointment

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The next steps after your hospital appointment will depend on whether the ophthalmologist was able to make a diagnosis at the time, and whether you require further tests or treatment.

Most people will need to visit the eye clinic at the hospital more than once, to receive ongoing treatment and check-ups. Any treatments and information about how often you will need to come back for check-ups will be explained to you, and you can ask any questions you have before deciding on a course of treatment.

Most eye conditions will need long-term monitoring and regular check-ups with an ophthalmologist. You will usually be given a telephone number to call if you notice anything unexpected with your vision between your appointments.

If your eye condition is treated successfully, or when your ophthalmologist thinks everything possible has been done to treat your condition, you may be discharged and will not have to visit the hospital again.  

If you have been discharged, but your sight changes make an appointment with your optician to check what is going on. If the change is sudden, seek immediate help from your optician or GP.

If you have been diagnosed with an eye condition, have a look at more detailed information about your condition, and support you may be able to access, on our A-Z of eye conditions pages.