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During your hospital appointment

Ophthalmology clinics are usually busy places, and you might feel nervous or unsure when attending for the first time. This page provides some information on what you can expect during a visit.

At the clinic

When you arrive, you should let the receptionist know that you are there and they will tell you where to wait. You may find that you are waiting for a long time, or that there are periods of waiting around in between seeing different people.

If you have any specific needs, you should let the receptionist know, even if you have done this in advance, so that the clinic staff are aware that you may need extra help. For example, if you are hard of hearing it may mean that someone has to come and get you rather than calling your name out.

If you need anything to help with your mobility, for example a walking frame, then you should also let the staff know so they can take this into consideration.

Clinic staff

You may find that you see several different people for different tests. Usually, your visual acuity will be measured by a nurse - this means reading down a letter chart as best you can.

You may also have to take other tests to measure your vision, given by different people before you are seen by the ophthalmologist.

Seeing the ophthalmologist

Ophthalmology is a large area of medicine with ophthalmologists specialising in different conditions of the eye. For example, some ophthalmologists specialise in conditions of the retina, others in conditions of the cornea and still others in cataracts or optic nerve diseases.

Usually, your GP will have referred you to the most appropriate consultant's clinic for your problem. If you have two different eye conditions, you may see a different ophthalmologist in different clinics for each of your conditions.

Usually there will be one consultant in the clinic that you visit although you may not see them personally, as often their registrars and senior house officers do most of the examinations. Registrars are experienced in examinations and are confident in diagnosing eye conditions. Senior house officers are more junior posts but are always under supervision from a more senior ophthalmologist.

Although you may not see the consultant themselves, they will be aware of your condition because of the reports they receive from the registrars and house officers. Sometimes the registrar may ask the consultant's opinion on your eyes, and this may mean that both doctors will examine your eyes.

If you attend hospital regularly then you may see a number of different doctors in the same clinic over different appointments. When this happens, the consultant will get to know about each of your appointments as medical teams meet to discuss their cases outside of their time in the clinic.

Sometimes you'll be seen by a specialist nurse or optometrist who have additional qualifications authorising them to carry out certain tests. This might be in Accident and Emergency, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataract or glaucoma clinics. Often, you'll see a specialist optometrist if you're at the hospital for medical contact lenses.

The consultation

The ophthalmologist will want to ask what may seem a lot of questions about your eye symptoms. This is called "taking a history" and it is an important step in helping the doctor to find out what condition you may have.

There are a number of tests that the ophthalmologist may want to perform, and they may perform different tests for different eye conditions.

Most appointments will include an examination of the inside of your eye. This is normally done using a type of microscope called a "slit lamp". This is a piece of equipment that allows the doctor to get a clear view of the inside of your eye.

You will be asked to place your chin on a holder and the ophthalmologist will sit opposite you, looking down a microscope attachment to the slit lamp. This examination is nearly always conducted with the lights in the examining room switched off. When the doctor is looking inside your eye, you will be able to see bright lights. These lights can seem very bright, but they are not strong enough to cause any problems with your sight. It's normal to see colour spots in your vision straight afterwards that clear in a few minutes; these are called afterimages. The doctor can use different settings on the slit lamp to see different parts of the eye and to see your eye from different angles.

All this information helps your ophthalmologist to diagnose any problem you may have.

In some cases, this examination is enough for your doctor to be able to tell you what condition they think you have. If this is the case, the ophthalmologist should tell you the name of the condition they think is affecting your eyes.

They should also tell you of any treatments available, what may happen to your condition in the future, and give you time to ask any questions that you may have.

In some cases, the ophthalmologist may need the results of other tests to help make their decision.

If this is the case then you may find that you have to visit the clinic more than once, first, for any tests that may be needed, and second, to get the results from your ophthalmologists.

Getting all the information you need

Having a hospital appointment can be a difficult experience. Waiting for long periods and the unfamiliar nature of the examination can make you feel nervous and unsure.

Because of this, it can be difficult to remember what the doctor has said and the questions you wanted to ask. Preparation can make a big difference. Find out more about how to prepare before your hospital appointment.

You may also want to ask whether the clinic has any written material about your condition that you can take away and read.

There are a number of support groups for various eye conditions. Your ophthalmologist or the nurse at the clinic may be able to give you contact details for these organisations.