What is an eye puff test?

The Eye Air Puff Test: Understanding Tonometry

For anyone who has visited an optometrist, the “air puff” test, formally known as non-contact tonometry (NCT), might be a familiar experience. It’s quick and a tad surprising, but what does this test actually measure? Let’s dive into the details.


1. Purpose of the Test

The primary goal of the air puff test is to measure intraocular pressure (IOP), which refers to the fluid pressure inside the eyes. Elevated IOP can be an indicator of glaucoma, a serious eye condition that can lead to vision loss if not treated.

2. How Does It Work?

  • Positioning: The patient rests their chin and forehead on a support to keep the head steady.
  • Measurement: The machine releases a rapid puff of air onto the eye’s surface. The amount of indentation or flattening caused by the air on the cornea is measured by the machine, which then calculates the IOP.

3. Why is IOP Important?

  • Glaucoma Indicator: Consistently high IOP can lead to glaucoma, where the optic nerve gets damaged due to increased pressure. Early detection is crucial for management.
  • Monitoring Eye Health: Regular IOP checks can help track changes over time, ensuring timely interventions if needed.

4. Benefits of the Air Puff Test

  • Non-invasive: The test doesn’t involve any direct contact with the eye, making it comfortable for many patients.
  • Quick: It takes only a few seconds to administer, making it a quick way to assess eye health.

5. Are There Alternatives?

Yes, there are other methods to measure IOP:

  • Goldmann Applanation Tonometry: This method involves numbing the eye and gently pressing a probe against the cornea. It’s considered the gold standard for IOP measurement.
  • Tono-Pen: A handheld device that gently touches the eye’s surface to measure pressure.


The eye air puff test is a standard procedure in many eye exams, providing essential data about one’s eye health. While it might feel strange or surprising, it plays a crucial role in detecting and preventing potential vision-threatening conditions like glaucoma.


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