If you’re lucky to have had good vision all your life, you’ve probably skipped having regular eye exams—but there are some crystal-clear reasons to schedule a checkup with an optometrist or ophthalmologist, even when you can see with 20/20 vision.
Eye exams can provide early detection of general health problems before you have symptoms—problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and autoimmune diseases. Another good reason to schedule an appointment: catching eye problems early can help you maintain good vision and eye health and even prevent loss of vision.
August is National Eye Exam Month—the perfect time to pick up the phone and take a simple step toward good health.
ABC’s of Eye Exams
A standard eye exam can be performed by an optometrist (a health care professional licensed to practice optometry) or an ophthalmologist (a medical or osteopathic doctor who specializes in eye and vision care), and involved a vision check as well as standard tests to determine eye health.
Experts recommend that adults up to age 60 get their eyes examined every two years. (Those who wear contact lens should go every year.) Adults age 60 and better should get an eye exam annually. This is particularly important for those who:
• Have been diagnosed with diabetes or hypertension, or have a family history of glaucoma, macular degeneration, or other eye diseases
• Work in a job (or have a work history) that is very demanding visually or hazardous to the eyes
• Take prescription or over-the-counter drugs that carry ocular side effects, such as certain antihistamines and corticosteroids
Focus on Common
Our eyes change with age, making them prone to some common problems. Most of these can be easily treated, but they may be signs of more serious issues—all the more reason to have your eyes checked regularly.
Presbyopia is the medical term for the need we all eventually develop for reading glasses. It is normal to experience a slow deterioration of your ability to focus on close-up objects or read small print.
Floaters are little dots or “cobwebs” that float in your vision and seem to move with your eyes. These can be a normal part of aging, but occasionally they are a sign of a serious problem such as retinal detachment. If you suddenly notice many new floaters and/or flashes of light, see an ophthalmologist immediately.
Excessive tearing can be caused by eyes’ sensitivity to light, wind, or temperature swings, or from having dry eyes. Try wearing sunglasses or using over-the-counter eye drops. You might check with an eye care professional to see if you have a blocked tear duct or an infection.
Dry eye is a common, often chronic, problem for older adults, and occurs when the eyes don’t produce enough tears to lubricate themselves. Mild cases can usually be managed with over-the-counter artificial tear solutions. More serious cases of dry eye may need medical treatment.
Cataracts and Other
More than half of all Americans 65 and better have cataracts. This common problem is actually a natural buildup of protein on the eye’s lens, which progressively clouds vision. Cataracts form slowly, and vision will become increasingly blurry or foggy. Other signs are progressive nearsightedness, changes in perceived color, and glare sensitivity.
Eventually, cataracts will need to be removed with surgery. This is typically conducted on an outpatient basis; an ophthalmologist or surgeon simply replaces the clouded lens with an artificial one. Cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgery in the United States, and has very high success rates at restoring vision.
Other serious eye conditions (which are not nearly as common as cataracts) include macular degeneration and glaucoma. Macular degeneration is an eye disorder associated with aging which results in damaging sharp and central vision. An estimated 1.8 million Americans age 40 and better are affected by macular degeneration, and an additional 7.3 million are at substantial risk of developing the condition.
Glaucoma, if untreated, can result in vision loss and even blindness. It occurs when fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly rises, ultimately damaging the optic nerve. The good news is that with early treatment, you can often protect your eyes against serious vision loss.
Whether you have 20/20 vision or need your glasses to see across the dinner table, the benefits of getting regular eye exams should be clear as day.