Ophthalmoscopic eye examination

An ophthalmoscopic eye examination is a test where your Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) optometrist or doctor will use an ‘ophthalmoscope’ to examine the inside of your eye. 

There are two types of ophthalmoscope. One – called a direct ophthalmoscope – is like a long torch with a magnifying lens inside. 

The other – an indirect ophthalmoscope – is a light on a headband worn by the optometrist or doctor, a bit like an old miner’s lamp, which is used with a separate magnifying glass.

By using an ophthalmoscope the doctor can see different parts of your eye in detail.

An ophthalmoscope is especially useful to look at the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue inside your eye. Information is sent from the retina to the visual centres in your brain to give you sight.

Why it's needed

Your optometrist or doctor may want to take a closer look at the inside of your eye for various reasons.

The inside of your eye can provide information on what may be causing you to have headaches, eye pain or problems with your vision.

Certain conditions show characteristic changes in your retina and the blood vessels inside your eye. Your doctor will check for these signs.

For example, diabetes can cause damage to the blood vessels that nourish the retina, so diabetic patients have regular eye examinations to make sure that the insides of their eyes are healthy.

Some medications can cause problems in your eyes, so your doctor may use an ophthalmoscope to make sure that the medicine you are taking isn’t causing you any harm.

What happens

Before your optometrist or doctor does the examination they may put some eye-drops into your eyes.

These drops will cause the pupil (the black circle at the centre of your eye) to become larger – this helps your optometrist or doctor see more clearly into your eye.

Then the doctor uses their ophthalmoscope to look into your eye. The ophthalmoscope does not touch your eye – it shines a light into it.

During the examination you may be asked to look in different directions, as well as straight ahead. Usually it will take less than 10 minutes to examine the inside of your eye. 

Does it hurt?

No, having an ophthalmoscopic eye examination is painless. The ophthalmoscope does not touch your eye and so will not hurt you.

The eye drops feel a bit like getting shampoo in your eyes but the discomfort only lasts for a few seconds.

The drops make you more sensitive to sunshine and bright lights, and also make it difficult for you to be able to see or read for a while after.

This will wear off within an hour or so, although some people find their vision is blurry for the rest of the day.

If you know in advance that you will be having an eye examination it may be good idea, on bright days, to bring a pair of sunglasses with you to clinic to wear afterwards. Also, people who drive shouldn’t do so after the eye drops.


Your optometrist or doctor may discuss the results with you straight away or they may ask you to come back for another appointment.

Depending on the results, you may need to have further tests or to see another doctor.

Compiled by:
Great Ormond Street Hospital
Last review date:
December 2013