When was the last time you had an eye exam? If you're like many Americans, you may not even remember. Those who don't wear glasses, may think, "I can see just fine. why bother?" Those who do wear glasses, may assume the only reason for an eye exam is to get a new prescription. In honor of August being National Eye Exam Month, here are six good reasons to schedule your eye exam now:
- Your vision is getting worse.
Are you having a hard time reading small type or road signs? Do folks tease you about needing longer arms when you read a menu? Could your headaches be due to eye strain? Sooner or later, most of us will need reading glasses. With more than 150 million Americans wearing glasses or contacts, you're in good company.
- You're over 40.
The need for reading glasses isn't the only reason to see an eye doctor as you age. It's essential to get screened for eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, or diabetic retinopathy, all of which start out insidiously, with no noticeable symptoms. Early diagnosis means early treatment. How often should you get your eyes checked? Every two years is fine if you have no risk factors but once you turn 65, it's a good idea to go every year.
- Your eyes are red and irritated.
We tend to think of allergy symptoms in terms of our noses. But some people never experience sniffing, sneezing, or stuffiness as an allergic response. Instead, they have itchy, red, teary, or burning eyes.
- You have one or more risk factors for eye disease.
Have your eyes checked every year if you:
- Have a personal or family history of cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, macular degeneration, or other eye diseases.
- Have African American or Latino/Hispanic ancestry – you may have thinner corneas, a risk factor for glaucoma.
- Have diabetes, which raises your risk for diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, or cataracts.
- Have a job that involves using the computer all day or requires excellent vision, such a pilot, lifeguard, or air traffic controller.
- Wear contact lenses.
- Have had an eye injury and/or eye surgery in the past.
- Have eyesight that continues to worsen over time.
- You're seeing things.
No, not Sasquatch or the Ghost of Christmas Past – things like flashes of light, halos around lamp posts, or spots that appear to float through your field of vision. Perhaps you have double vision. You may also be experiencing eye pain or draining in one of both eyes. These are all good reasons to get an eye exam right away.
- You care about your general health.
Many general health problems are first detected during a routine, comprehensive eye exam. That's because your doctor can detect changes in the blood vessels of the eye or fluctuations in vision. These observations can sometimes be early signs of diabetes, high blood pressure, arthrosclerosis, and high cholesterol. Other conditions that may be detected during an eye exam include Graves’ disease, MS, and certain brain tumors.
- Kids need eye exams too!
If your child is struggling in school, he or she may need glasses! While most parents are diligent about taking their kids to the pediatrician or dentist, they don't always think about the eye doctor. Nearly 80% of learning in young children is visual, yet only 39% of preschool children have their vision tested. As children start school, inadequate vision can get in the way of learning to read, seeing the blackboard, or catching a ball.
Eye doctors all over the world are seeing an alarming surge in nearsightedness in children. In the U.S., myopia has increased from 25% in the early 1970s to nearly 42% in the early 2000s. The younger myopia starts, the more concerning the outlook, as nearsighted eyes are more vulnerable to eye issues like glaucoma or retinal detachment in middle age. There are two theories to explain the rise of nearsightedness in kids. One is screens – children are spending more time on computers and iPhones, using their close-up vision. The other theory is that kids don't spend enough time outdoors. Some scientists believe sunlight may stimulate proper eye growth. Others say being outdoors in open spaces requires that children exercise their distance vision. (Just remember to protect your youngsters eyes with sunglasses whenever they are out on sunny days!)
Another vision issue in young children is amblyopia, in which one of the eyes is not working in synch with the brain’s vision center. An estimated 2-3 out of 100 children have amblyopia, which can cause vision loss if left untreated. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends vision screening for amblyopia for all children between age 3 and 5 years of age.
- Optician, Optometrist, or Ophthalmologist?
All three of these professionals play a role in caring for your eyes, but their training and level of expertise are not the same:
- An optician is a technician who fits you for glasses or contact lenses. Opticians don't require a college degree but do have one or two years of specialized training after high school.
- An optometrist typically has an O.D. degree (Doctor of Optometry), which takes four years to complete beyond college. Optometrists are trained to examine, diagnose, and treat a variety of eye conditions.
- An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who has completed four years of medical school plus a residency in ophthalmology. They are trained to perform surgical and other treatments for eye conditions.
Either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist can perform your eye exam. If you need glasses, you will generally get them from an optician.
Tips for Healthier Eyes
- Get regular eye exams.
- Eat a healthy diet and make sure the foods you eat contain plenty of vitamins A, E, and C and omega 3 acids.
- Look into your family's eye health history and if you learn anything worrisome, talk to your eye doctor.
- Wear sunglasses that block out 99% to 100% of UV-A and UV-B radiation.
- Quit smoking.
- To reduce eye strain, think 20/20/20: Every 20 minutes, look about 20 feet away from you for 20 seconds.
This article first appeared in the August 2023 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.