A visual field test measures your peripheral vision, or how well you can see above, below and to the sides of something you’re looking at. It’s also called a perimetry test. Visual field testing is important for many conditions, including glaucoma.
A visual field test is a simple and painless test an eye care provider gives you to diagnose or monitor various eye conditions.
A visual field test measures two things:
Your eyes normally see a wide area of the space in front of you. Without moving your eyes, you can see not only what’s straight ahead, but also some of what’s above, below and off to either side. Providers call all of the area you can see that isn’t right in front of you “peripheral vision.” This surrounds the area that’s right in front of you that you can see (central vision).
Vision is usually best right in the middle of the visual field, so you probably turn your eyes toward the things you want to see more clearly. The farther away from the center of your vision an object is, the less clearly you can see it. When an object moves far enough to the side, it disappears from your vision completely.
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When you visit an optometrist or ophthalmologist, a visual field test is part of a routine eye exam. Visual field testing can help your eye care provider find early signs of diseases like glaucoma that gradually damage vision. Some people with glaucoma don’t notice any problems with their vision, but the visual field test shows a loss of peripheral vision.
A visual field test can also help your provider find out more about the part of your nervous system that allows you to see. The visual part of your nervous system includes:
Issues with any part of this system can change your visual field. There are well-known patterns in the test results that help providers recognize certain types of injury or disease.
By repeating visual field tests at regular intervals, providers also can tell whether your condition is getting better or worse.
Your healthcare provider may want you to have a visual field test if you have (or they think you may have) certain conditions. Providers use the results to both diagnose and monitor conditions such as:
Sometimes your eye care provider will want to repeat the visual field test right away to make sure the results are accurate. If you’re tired, for example, the test results can be unreliable.
Your provider might also recommend that you take a visual field test again in a few weeks, a few months or a year. This might be necessary to make sure that they find any new problems early. When you have certain eye conditions, your provider will do visual field tests regularly to find out how well the treatment is working.
Visual field tests are especially important in the treatment of glaucoma. These tests will tell the provider if you’re losing vision even before you notice. That’s just one of the reasons why people who have glaucoma should keep all of their appointments with their provider.
You don’t have to prepare for a visual field test. It’s not invasive, so you aren’t likely to have any side effects.
There are several types of visual field tests, but they all have one thing in common: you look straight ahead at one point and signal when you see an object or a light somewhere off to the side.
Your provider will explain to you exactly where to look so that the test is accurate.
The two most basic types of visual field tests are very simple:
The confrontation visual field test measures only the outer edge of the visual field. It’s not very exact.
You may hear about different types of or terms for visual field tests, including static and kinetic perimetry tests. (Perimetry test is another way of saying peripheral vision test.)
A test usually isn’t longer than about five to 10 minutes per eye.
Computerized instruments are available to perform visual field tests and calculate results. These instruments give more reproducible and accurate results because:
A “normal” visual field test means that you can see about as well as people without vision issues.
The visual field test shows the amount of vision loss and the affected areas. The instrument prints the results as patterns of dots or numbers. The patterns tell your provider how well your eyes and visual field system work. This helps your provider diagnose an underlying health condition and what treatment you need.
A test that shows visual field loss means that vision in some areas isn’t as keen as it should be. A test could show that you have a small area of lost vision, or all vision lost in large areas.
Generally, your provider should be able to give you results right away.
Abnormal results may mean different things. These results can indicate different types of issues, including glaucoma, macular degeneration or stroke. The follow-up will vary.
Your eye care provider will discuss treatment options with you.
You should always contact your eye care provider if you have any new vision loss or eye discomfort. If you have sudden vision loss or eye pain, go to an emergency room for immediate medical help.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
It’s a good idea to get regular eye exams. Part of your exam will include visual field testing to find out how well you can see above, below and to each side of the object you’re looking directly at. If there are issues with your visual field, your provider can use the results to help diagnose medical conditions you might have or to monitor how well treatment is working for an existing condition.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/04/2023.
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