At home eye tests – the benefits and how to do them

8th December, 2022 • 9 min read

Wondering if it’s time for a prescription update for your eyeglasses, or if you need to get a pair for the first time? Have you noticed more blurriness than normal? Are you struggling to read food labels or car number plates? Or do you just want to test how good your eyesight is?

There are some checks you can do at home, to help you work out if you should see an eye care professional. So read on to find out how to do an eye test at home, along with the pros and cons, and other ways to look after your eye health.

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Why would you do an at home eye test?

Whether it’s because you can’t afford to go to the optometrist, they’re fully booked, or you’d rather stay indoors, eye tests you do yourself are a great way to check your eyesight in the comfort of your own 4 walls.

They can be especially useful if you feel your eyes are changing, but you’re not quite sure, and you find yourself dismissing it.

If you’re wondering whether you need to see an optometrist, bear these facts in mind as you do your self-check for eyes:

  • your eyesight changes as you get older – you might find that it’s harder to see things close up, your eyes take longer to adjust to changing light levels, or similar colours (such as blue and black) become harder to differentiate
  • hormonal changes around the
    menopause
    can affect your vision
    – for example, your eye shape may change slightly, making you more likely to need reading glasses. You can get drier eyes, too – which might make it feel harder to work at a screen all day
  • hormones during pregnancy can also affect your eyes – speak to your doctor if you’re pregnant and your vision becomes blurry, so they can check it isn’t being caused by another health condition

What can home eye tests tell you?

There are 3 tests you can do at home, which can tell you different things about your eyesight:

  • distance vision test: this checks how well you can see things that are far away – such as a departures board at an airport or train station, or if you’re looking at something across the street
  • near vision test: this checks how well you can see things close up – such as a computer screen, book or newspaper
  • Amsler grid test: this checks for
    macular degeneration
    – a condition where you lose central vision and the ability to see details such as features on faces and what’s on a TV screen

Who is a home eye test suitable for?

At home eye tests can be used for adults and children aged 3 and above.

Home eye test benefits

Self-testing your sight at home is:

  • convenient – no need to take time off work or travel to an appointment
  • free – so it can save you money
  • simple to do yourself

“Self checks aren’t a substitute for professional eye care, but they can help reassure you if you want to monitor your eyesight at home before it’s time to get an eye test,” explains Dr Adiele Hoffman, family doctor and Healthily expert. “But don’t delay seeing a professional if you’re due a routine test, or you have a condition that needs monitoring.”

What are the problems with a self-check eye test?

Home eye tests aren’t a replacement for an eye examination by an ophthalmologist or other eye care professional. They:

  • can only check your near or far sight, or flag up the need to see a professional about potential macular problems
  • won’t pick up other eye health problems that an ophthalmologist is trained to look for – such as changes in eye pressure (which can be a symptom of
    glaucoma
    ), signs of
    diabetic retinopathy
    , or changes in your side (peripheral) vision, which can be caused by several health conditions
  • shouldn’t be relied on for children

How to do an eye test at home

Which home tests you choose to do will depend on the type of vision you’re trying to check. Here’s how to do the 3 home eye tests:

How to do a distance vision test

  • download an eye test chart for home use from a trusted source – such as this
    Snellen chart for adults
    from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO)
  • print the chart – making sure your printer doesn’t resize it – and attach it to a wall at eye level
  • sit 10ft (3m) away from the chart
  • if you normally wear glasses, keep them on
  • cover 1 eye with the palm of your hand
  • get someone to shine a flashlight onto each line of the chart while you read the letters
  • start at the top row and continue until the bottom – or until the letters are too difficult to see
  • write down the number on the lowest row you can see correctly
  • repeat the above with your other eye

How to do a near vision test

  • follow the instructions for the distance vision test above, but this time, sit much closer to the chart – 14in (35cm) away
  • again, if you wear glasses, keep them on
  • write down the number on the lowest row you can see correctly

How to test a child’s eyesight at home

This test is suitable for children aged 3 and over:

  • download and print the
    AAO’s E test chart for children
  • start by asking your child to point in the direction that the E is pointing. Turn the practice E in 4 directions – up, down, right, left – and hold the chart close enough so your child can point in 4 directions without assistance
  • sit them to sit 10ft (3m) away from the chart
  • if they normally wear glasses, they should keep them on
  • get them to cover 1 eye with the palm of their hand
  • shine a flashlight on the chart if it’s too dark to see the chart
  • point to the largest E and ask your child which direction it is pointing in
  • write down the number on the lowest row your child can see – where they get more than half the Es right
  • repeat the above with their other eye

How to interpret the results

Normal vision is known as 20/20 vision – it means you can see an object clearly from 20ft (6m) away.

However, it’s common not to have 20/20 vision – in the US, research suggests about only 35% of people have 20/20 vision without wearing corrective lenses.

On the tests above (which are done wearing any glasses you normally wear):

  • an adult or older child should be able to see down to 20/20 – the bottom line of the testing chart
  • a child aged 3 or 4 should be able to see down to 20/40 (line 4 on the E chart), and 20/30 (the bottom line) by age 5

If you or your child can’t do the above, see an eye care professional for an eye examination – you may need glasses or contact lenses, or a new prescription strength if you already wear them.

How to do an Amsler grid test for macular degeneration

  • download the American Macular Degeneration Foundation’s Amsler chart – a simple square containing a grid pattern and a dot in the middle
  • tape the chart to a wall where light is good and consistent, with no glare
  • keep the chart the same distance away from your eyes every time you test – the AAO recommends 12in to 15in (30cm to 38cm)
  • wear any glasses you normally use to read
  • cover 1 eye and fix your stare on the black dot
  • at the same time, check to see if any of the lines are wavy, distorted or missing
  • if you notice any changes that are new or getting worse, see an ophthalmologist for a professional check-up

If you’ve already been diagnosed with macular degeneration, it’s recommended that you do this test every day.

Watch the AAO’s video about how to use the Amsler grid.

When are professional eye tests recommended?

The AAO recommends the following:

  • if your child is under 3 – they should have their eyes tested by an ophthalmologist or other eye care professional. A first test is recommended at 6 months, then once a year afterwards – or at least by age 2 or 3, and again before they start school
  • if you’re in your 20s and 30s – you should have a complete exam at least once in your 20s and twice in your 30s (if you don’t have any sight or eye health problems)
  • if you’re 40 – you should have a full examination by an ophthalmologist
  • if you’re 65 or over – you should be having eye examinations every 1 to 2 years, to check for conditions such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and
    cataracts
    . Read more about
    eye health tips for older people
  • if you wear contact lenses – you should see an eye professional once a year, whatever your age
  • if you get new eye symptoms or an eye injury – you should get advice from an eye professional. Symptoms to watch for include pain, discharge and redness, or seeing
    floaters
    or flashes of light
  • if you have a family history of certain health conditions – such as eye diseases,
    diabetes
    or
    high blood pressure
    – you should see an eye specialist more frequently, so discuss this with a healthcare professional

How to improve your eyesight

If you’re having any problems with your eyes, you should see an eye specialist so they can check the cause.

It may be something that can be easily corrected with glasses or contact lenses. Or you may be able to choose refractive surgery, if it’s suitable for you.

Other eye problems may need medical treatment – glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy, for example – or surgery – cataracts, for example.

Can eye exercise improve your eyesight?

You may have seen posts online about eye exercises that can improve your eyesight. These are only recommended under specialist guidance for people with eye muscle problems, such as a

squint
.

However, there are some self-care steps you can take to help your eyes:

Dealing with dryness

  • blink more when using a computer screen – this helps stop the surface of your eye drying out
  • position the screen below eye level
  • avoid working in an air-conditioned environment – you might find a humidifier helpful
  • use artificial lubricants to refresh your eyes
  • if dry eyes are happening alongside other symptoms of menopause, consider talking to your doctor about treatments

Read about dry eye syndrome.

Reducing eye strain

  • use the 20:20:20 rule – every 20 minutes, look at something 20ft away for 20 seconds
  • sit 25in (63.5cm) away from your computer screen
  • reduce the glare on your screen and adjust the brightness on your screen

Read more about

looking after your eyes
.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.