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Focusing on Retinoscopy

During your eye exam, you may have had a doctor tell you to look ahead while directing a strong light into your eye. But what does this do? Firstly, this test is a retinoscopy examination, and if you struggle with accurate vision, this is a preliminary way the eye doctor could assess it. It sounds fascinating, but by looking at the way light reflects off your retina, the optometrist can assess if you are nearsighted, farsighted or have astigmatism, and can also get a pretty good reading on the prescription required to correct your vision.

The main thing your doctor is checking for during this exam is how accurately your eyes can focus. When we use the retinoscope to shine light into your eye, a reddish orange light reflects off your retina, through your pupil. Eye doctors call this the red reflex. We use the light to measure your focal length, or in layman’s terms, it will determine the precise angle of refraction of light off your retina which tells us how well your eye is able to focus. And if we notice that you aren’t focusing correctly, we hold a few lenses with varying prescriptions in front of the eye to determine which one rectifies the error. The lens power that works is the prescription you will need to correct your impairment with glasses or contact lenses.

The optometrist will perform your exam in a dark room. To make your eyes easier to examine, you’ll generally be asked to look at something behind the doctor. Because a patient isn’t instructed to read eye charts during a retinoscopy exam, it means that it’s also a really great way to determine an accurate prescription for children or patients who have difficulty with speech.

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