Retinal Examination

A retinal exam, also referred to as an ophthalmoscopy or fundoscopy, examines the back of the eye, including the retina, optic disc, and blood vessels. The provider usually applies special eye drops to dilate the pupils to make the back part of the eye visible. The eye drops may sting briefly and might cause a medicinal taste in the mouth.

There are several techniques used by providers to view the back of the eye, including direct examination, indirect examination, and slit lamp examination.

During direct examination, providers shine a beam of light through the pupil and use an ophthalmoscope to see the back of the eye. In some cases, dilating eye drops will not be necessary. It’s not unusual to see afterimages when the provider stops shining the light. Don’t be alarmed. This is normal and will not last long.

During an indirect examination, the patient may be asked to lie down or recline in a chair. Using a very bright light mounted to their forehead, the provider will hold each eye open and examine each one. This exam allows providers to see the eye in great detail and in three dimensions. It’s even more likely that patients will see afterimages when their provider completes the indirect examination. This, too, is normal and will soon go away.

When conducting a slit lamp exam, providers use the slit lamp along with special lenses to look at the back of the eye.

The retinal exam usually takes five to 10 minutes. However, if dilating drops are used, they will generally take 15 to 20 minutes to work, and the effects will last for several hours up to one or two days. The patient’s vision will be blurry, and they will have trouble focusing their eyes. Patients who have their eyes dilated may need to arrange to have transportation home because they may have trouble driving themselves. Some people who have their eyes dilated may not be able to return to work immediately after their exam.