Why Does Your Eye Doctor Shoot A Puff Of Air Into Your Eye?

For many people, the strangest part of the eye exam is when the eye doctor uses a special device to shoot a puff of air in their eyes. This test feels odd, though not painful, and it is a very important part of the eye exam. With the eye puff test, your doctor is testing your eye pressure to determine whether you're at risk for glaucoma, a serious ailment that can lead to progressive blindness. Here's a closer look at how eye pressure and glaucoma relate, and why it's so important for your eye doctor to administer that air puff test.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a condition in which the pressure in the back of the eye increases due to an excess of ocular fluid in that area. Over time, this building pressure damages the optic nerve, leading to progressive vision loss.

Who is at risk for glaucoma?

Anyone can develop glaucoma, but older adults, those who smoke, and people with a family history of glaucoma are at an increased risk.

How does the air puff test determine if you have glaucoma?

The air puff test is sort of a "first-line" means to determining if you're at risk for glaucoma. When your eye doctor shoots the puff of air at your eye, what the machine really measures is how strongly your eye resists the pressure placed on it by that puff of air. This information is used, by the machine, to give the eye doctor a measurement of your ocular pressure. If the ocular pressure is above 22 mm Hg, you are considered to have high eye pressure.

High eye pressure does not automatically indicate that you have glaucoma, but it does mean you're at a pretty high risk for glaucoma. So, if your eye pressure is high, your eye doctor will then conduct other tests to determine if you do, in fact, have glaucoma. The most common of these tests is a dilated eye exam, in which drops are used to dilate your pupils and then a microscope is used to look at the back of your eye and assess your optic nerve for damage.

Why is the air puff test so important?

In its early stages, glaucoma does not cause any symptoms. By the time it begins to cause vision loss, it is quite progressed and serious. The air puff test allows your eye doctor, like California Eye Specialists Medical Group Inc., to detect high eye pressure, which often indicates glaucoma, before you begin experiencing symptoms. If you're diagnosed early, medications to reduce eye pressure can generally keep the disease from progressing further, so your vision will stay sharp.