How many doctors do you see on a regular basis? Many of us probably go to the doctor for an annual physical and see a specialist regularly as well, but what about an eye doctor? If you haven’t seen an eyecare professional in the last year, now is a great time because August is Eye Exam Awareness Month. More importantly, a comprehensive eye exam is a good way to get a glimpse of your overall health. An eye doctor can look into your eyes and see the signs of chronic diseases, so it’s not just about making sure you can see—it’s how you see and how you want to keep seeing.
How often should you see an eye doctor?
Acknowledging your eyes truly are a window to your overall health, adults should get a thorough eye exam every year. During a routine exam, your eye care professional doesn’t just check to see if you need glasses or contact lenses. He or she also checks for eye diseases and is often the first one to spot a number of other chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, brain abnormalities, and even certain cancers.
A regular eye exam is especially important if you’re considered at risk for eye and vision problems. At-risk people are usually those with diabetes and high blood pressure, or who have a family history of eye disease like glaucoma or macular degeneration. But you might be surprised to know that “at risk” also includes contact lens wearers and people whose jobs are highly demanding visually. If you stare at a computer screen all day, you may also be considered at risk so you’ll want to be sure to get a thorough eye exam every year.
So how do you know if you’re experiencing an eye issue? Many eye diseases have no symptoms until the disease process is well advanced. Typically, vision issues manifest with blurred vision while driving or reading. You may also find yourself squinting at the television, feeling visual fatigue by the end of the day, or getting frequent headaches. If it’s been more than a year since your last visit to your eye doctor, it’s possible your prescription may be out of date.
Is an online exam good enough?
You may come across websites or smartphone apps that offer online eye exams. These services are definitely tempting. You can get your eyes checked from the comfort of your home instead of making an appointment with your eyecare professional, but you shouldn’t rely on an online test to give you a complete picture of your eye health. Here’s why:
- An online exam can only show what vision correction you may need. In fact, the American Optometric Association has warned against online exams specifically because they aren’t thorough enough. For example, your phone or computer can’t do an eye pressure test to check for glaucoma, which means key indicators of potential health problems could be missed.
- A comprehensive eye exam should include several different tests—many of which, today, have to be done face-to-face with the proper equipment.
Let’s talk eye tests: What type of tests are included in a comprehensive exam?
In addition to the routine eye pressure test, a comprehensive eye exam should include several different tests—many of which must be done face-to-face with the appropriate equipment. These include a slit lamp exam, which uses a unique microscope to review the structures of your eye, as well as pupil dilation, which can help detect conditions like a retinal detachment, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and glaucoma.
During your comprehensive exam, your doctor will also review your medical history to identify any risk factors for eye disease. He or she will then determine the appropriate tests for you. For instance, glaucoma, a group of eye diseases where damage to the optic nerve can cause blindness, is hereditary. So if you have a family member with glaucoma, chances are good your doctor will test you for it as well.
Patients living with diabetes may develop retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that is a result of leakage from blood vessels. It can cause blindness. Diabetics may also be at higher risk of developing cataracts, a gradual clouding of the eye’s lens. Older individuals may be at risk of experiencing AMD, an eye disease that causes damage to the macula, which is a tiny spot near the center of the eye that is responsible for seeing objects straight ahead.
Additionally, during your exam, your doctor will give you tests for vision sharpness, color-blindness, eye movement testing, depth perception, and, potentially, a peripheral vision test. All of these tests are helpful in diagnosing potential vision issues and determining the best method to address them. Based on your results, your doctor might also suggest additional testing.
What should I know about children’s eyes?
While you’re making your eye exam appointment, don’t forget about your kids. The American Optometric Association recommends children receive at least 3 eye exams by age 6; before they start school, starting as early as 6 months old. After that, they should be examined every 1 to 2 years, depending on whether they need vision correction and whether they are at risk for development of eye and vision problems. Your child should also see an eye care professional if you suspect a problem with their vision. Keep an eye out for these symptoms or behaviors:
- Avoiding or disliking reading
- Short attention span
- Difficulty throwing or catching a ball, copying from a chalkboard, or tying their shoes
- Pulling a book in close to their face or sitting too close to a TV
- Lots of blinking or eye rubbing
Another reason to ensure your kids get regular eye exams is that nearly 80% of a child’s learning happens visually. Too often, a child who can’t see well is misdiagnosed with a totally unrelated behavioral problem like ADHD when they may only need a pair of glasses.
What should I tell my eye doctor during an exam?
Just like any other doctor appointment, an eye exam should include a robust dialogue with your doctor, with full transparency on the amount of time you spend staring at screens and tablets and whether you follow guidelines for things like sleeping with your contact lenses in. Sharing your lifestyle and habits with your eye doctor will allow him or her to provide guidance on optimal eye health for you. Some questions you may want to ask your eye doctor include:
- Does my vision seem stable?
- Are prescription sunglasses a good option for me?
- How do I address tired eyes?
- What kind of eye drops do you recommend?
If it’s been awhile since you or your kids had an eye exam, don’t put it off any longer. Make an appointment with an eye care professional today to help ensure good vision for life.