What Is Ophthalmoscopy?

Ophthalmoscopy is an exam that studies the back of the eye. This type of exam allows eye doctors (often ophthalmologists) or other healthcare providers who use it to check for eye conditions like glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. It also is called fundoscopy or a fundoscopic exam.

This article will address the purpose of ophthalmoscopy, any risks associated with it, and what to expect during ophthalmoscopy.

Ophthalmologist holds an indirect ophthalmoscope.

SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

Purpose of the Test

The purpose of ophthalmoscopy is to examine the back of the eye and make sure that it is healthy. Ophthalmoscopy is a routine part of a comprehensive eye exam. Healthcare providers also may perform ophthalmoscopy during a routine physical.

The parts of the eye that a healthcare provider can see during ophthalmoscopy include the following:

  • Retina, which is a light-sensitive tissue
  • Optic disc, the area where the retina connects to the optic nerve
  • Choroid, an area in the middle layer of the eye that provides oxygen and nutrients
  • Various blood vessels

Ophthalmoscopy is valuable because it can detect early signs of many eye problems. Ophthalmoscopy can help healthcare providers check for:

If you have one of these conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, your eye doctor (optometrist or ophthalmologist) may recommend that you have annual eye exams that include ophthalmoscopy to check for damage to the retina.

Risks

There are no risks specifically associated with ophthalmoscopy. However, you might have your eyes dilated with this type of test, which will make your pupils larger. Therefore, dilation has some risks associated with it in a small number of people. These include nausea and vomiting, dizziness, and a narrow-angle glaucoma attack.

Don’t Drive If Your Eyes Are Dilated

It is dangerous to drive with dilated eyes. You can call your optometrist or ophthalmologist ahead of time to see if they will dilate your eyes. If so, plan on having someone pick you up from your appointment, take a taxi, or use a ride-share service. It may be difficult to navigate public transportation with dilated eyes.

Before the Test

There is no preparation that you have to do for ophthalmoscopy. However, you should let your healthcare provider know if:

  • You have allergies to any medications.
  • You have glaucoma. That's because some people with glaucoma can have an increase in the pressure in their eyes with dilation.
  • You are taking any medications.

Before ophthalmoscopy, a member of the optometrist or ophthalmologist's office may dilate your eyes. Sometimes, the drops will sting when instilled in your eye. You don't always need to have your eyes dilated for this type of test.

You can dress like usual and eat or drink like normal before having an ophthalmoscopy done.

Ophthalmoscopy will take place at the optometrist or ophthalmologist's office. It usually takes five to 10 minutes.

During the Test

Typically, you will have an ophthalmoscopy done along with other vision-related tests. Or, if it's done as part of an overall physical, the healthcare provider also will conduct other exams to check your health.

Throughout the Test

Your healthcare provider will perform ophthalmoscopy in one of three ways:

  1. Slit-lamp ophthalmoscopy: A slit-lamp is a special microscope used by optometrists or ophthalmologists. With slit-lamp ophthalmoscopy, you sit in a chair, and the slit-lamp is in front of you. Your healthcare provider will ask you to place your chin on a resting area, and they will place the microscope part of the slit-lamp, along with a small lens, near the front of the eye. This helps them see the back of your eye with a lot of magnification.
  2. Indirect ophthalmoscopy: With a special instrument worn on their head, the healthcare provider will hold your eye open while shining a bright light into it. Then, while holding a lens close to your eye, the healthcare provider can see the back of your eye.
  3. Direct ophthalmoscopy: This approach is done by using an ophthalmoscope (a type of instrument) to shine a light beam through your pupil. An ophthalmoscope has a light and several lenses to help see the back of the eye. Direct ophthalmoscopy is used less often nowadays than indirect ophthalmoscopy or slit-lamp ophthalmoscopy.

During ophthalmoscopy, you may feel some pressure or discomfort from the bright light used, but you shouldn't feel any pain.

Post-Test

If you had your eyes dilated for ophthalmoscopy, ask your healthcare provider how long your eyes will remain dilated. You may need someone to drive you home, as the dilation can make driving harder. You also will need to wear sunglasses if you have had your eyes dilated.

After the Test

If you experience any unusual eye symptoms after leaving the healthcare provider's office, let them know. Unusual symptoms could include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Interpreting the Results

The results from ophthalmoscopy are available right away for your healthcare provider to discuss with you. If they see anything that looks abnormal, they will let you know. Abnormal results may indicate some of the previously mentioned conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, or macular degeneration.

Follow-Up

The type of abnormal results found during ophthalmoscopy will determine what follow-up is needed. Your healthcare provider will let you know what your next steps are. In addition, you may be referred to a specialist who is even more familiar with the type of abnormality detected.

Summary

Ophthalmoscopy is an exam used routinely during comprehensive eye exams and some physicals to check the back of the eye. It can help detect early signs of problems, such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and eye damage from high blood pressure. No special preparation is needed, although you should let the healthcare provider know if you are allergic to any types of medicines or if you have glaucoma.

You might have your eyes dilated for ophthalmoscopy. Ophthalmoscopy takes about five to 10 minutes to perform. You will have the results immediately. Your healthcare provider will let you know what follow-up is needed for any abnormal results.

A Word From Verywell

It is scary to experience any issues with your eyes and/or vision. Know that ophthalmoscopy is a safe, common, and noninvasive exam that shouldn't cause you any pain. You may experience some discomfort if your eyes are dilated, but it is temporary. Let your healthcare provider know if you have anxiety about eye exams so they can help reassure you and make sure you're comfortable.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Ophthalmoscopy.

  2. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is fundoscopy?

  3. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Should patients with severe glaucoma allow their eyes to be dilated during exam?

  4. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is the difference between direct and indirect ophthalmoscopy?