How do I read my eye exam results?

Updated February 21, 2017

It's easy to be confused after an eye exam when your doctor hands you a prescription. It might contain words with which you are unfamiliar, or abbreviations and numbers that don't make sense to you. The results listed on this prescription are nothing to worry about---your eye doctor is simply leaving detailed instructions about your exam so that your optometrist will be able to fit you for the proper glasses or contact lenses. Here's a brief rundown of the results of your eye exam, and what they mean for you.

Normal Results

Eyes change over time---it's a simple fact. Therefore, "normal" eye results may vary. You might need corrective glasses or lenses without having serious eye problems. 20/20 vision is often called "perfect" vision; in reality, the fraction merely demonstrates the visual acuity of an individual. You might have 20/10 vision, which means you can see from 20 feet away what the average person can only see at ten. 20/60 vision means that you can see from 20 feet away what, on average, a person can see from 60, meaning you might need corrective lenses. A normal exam will also test for colorblindness, peripheral vision, and macular degeneration.

Interpreting Results

Some of the symbols that appear on the prescription may seem foreign. They are usually abbreviations for different areas of your vision. The "sphere" box, often abbreviated "sph," determines the thickness of your contact lenses. Astigmatism is represented with the "cyl" abbreviation, which stands for "cylinder," and the number listed is the level of astigmatism present in your eyes. A box marked "prism" contains information on the alignment of your eyes---if you can't see straight, you may need prism correction. Visual acuity is determined in the "VA" box and will look like the fractions listed above. An addition for reading glasses might also be included.

Common Problems

You might have trouble understanding the terminology of your results. Cataracts (clouding in the eyes) and glaucoma (optic nerve damage) are two of the most common and may require medication or, in some instances, corrective surgery to prevent blindness. Less common is macular degeneration, a condition that affects the centre of vision, usually leaving the peripheral vision intact. Nutritional supplements and laser treatment are often effective solutions to combat glaucoma. While you may panic over your visual acuity, in general, problems in this area can be corrected with glasses, contacts, or laser surgery.

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About the Author

Alexis Writing has many years of freelance writing experience. She has written for a variety of online destinations, including She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from the University of Rochester.