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Are Online Vision Tests Dangerous?


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In March 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted a letter on their website to the online vision test company, Opternative. The letter said the company was misbranding itself and they were to cease any activities relating to its online eye examination.

Online vision tests are quickly growing in popularity. Being able to take an online eye examination and receive a prescription without visiting an optometrist sounds too good to be true. Is it?

What are Online Vision Tests?

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  • Online vision test aim to check your eyesight without scheduling an appointment with an optometrist. Several companies claim they can check the following:

  • ​Vision sharpness

  • Astigmastism

  • Light sensitivity

  • Color-blindness

Online vision tests are often used to quickly obtain a valid prescription for people looking to replace their eyewear when vacationing or away from home. Others use online vision tests to independently monitor their vision accuracy and refractive error between annual eye exams. ​ How Do Online Vision Tests Compare to an In-person Examination?

To begin an online eye exam, many companies (including Opternative) will begin by asking you to perform a simple task to calibrate the test on your computer screen. Then you are shown a series of vision tests to test your:

  • Nearsightedness

  • Farsightedness

  • Astigmatism

All in all, the tests usually take 20-30 minutes. At the end of which, you are provided with a prescription for glasses, contacts, or both in exchange for a fee. The prescription is  e-mailed to you within 24 hours.

This exam is called testing for refraction error, and it is only a small part of the comprehensive eye exam offered by an optometrist.

It’s important to understand that online vision tests tell you very little about your overall eye health. Online eye exams have no way to analyze such conditions as:

  • Glaucoma

  • Cataracts

  • Retina problems

  • Diabetes related issues

  • Macular degeneration

The American Optometric Association compares it to “taking a blood pressure reading at a kiosk and expecting a prescription.” ​


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Since optometrists have higher standards of care, they will perform tests to diagnose multiple vision issues from multiple data points. These include:

  • Family health history

  • Eye health

  • Dilation

  • Visual acuity measurements

  • Preliminary tests

Additional tests performed by an optometrist to detect and diagnose serious eye and health problems are:

  • ​Ultrasounds

  • Digital retinal imaging

  • Peripheral visual field testing

The bottom line is, while online vision tests may be useful during emergencies, they are not a replacement for comprehensive eye examinations performed by a licensed professional.

Are Online Vision Tests Dangerous?

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If you replace an annual comprehensive eye exam with online vision tests, there are several risks you’re taking. These are:

  1. Trained and licensed professionals are not able to examine the health of your eyes.

  2. Online visions tests cannot identify underlying medical issues.

  3. You’re sacrificing an opportunity for general preventive health care. For example, in 2014 240,0000 cases of diabetes were first detected by an optometrist.

  4. You have a greater risk of getting an incorrect prescription, which can further damage your visual comfort and your health.

While an online vision test may save you time and money, keep in mind that you are only receiving a very small service compared to what a doctor can provide.

Schedule Your Appointment with Eden Prairie Eye Care Today

It is vital for you to have an in-person, face-to-face comprehensive eye exam on a routine basis. Even if you see 20/20 and do not feel your vision is changing, there are many conditions that do not have any symptoms. Eden Prairie Eye Care is here to help you safeguard your eye health and ensure you are able to enjoy a lifetime of the best vision possible. To schedule your comprehensive exam with Dr. Oker, contact our offices by calling (952) 944-2792 or schedule an appointment online. We’ll make sure you get the care you deserve and the services you need.