Vision health has an impact on our everyday lives, helping us work, play, and interact with the world. Regular eye exams can help you keep your eyes healthy so you can continue doing all the things you enjoy.
Importance of Regular Eye Exams
We sometimes overlook the importance of regular eye exams and maintaining good eye health in favor of taking care of other health-related needs. But eye exams are important for a number of reasons, from finding solutions that enhance the quality of your eyesight, to diagnosing and treating eye-related or other diseases.
Some eye-related problems are caused by conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure, poor diet, poor general health, environmental factors, and the normal aging process. Undiagnosed or untreated eye problems can result in a long-term loss of vision, or blindness. A comprehensive eye exam can help your doctor spot trouble with your eyes early, which can help you slow the progression of damage to your vision.
But an eye exam can also help spot health problems in other areas of your body. It may surprise you to know that eye doctors are frequently the first to see symptoms of diseases that someone would normally not associate with the eye. What they find can help a patient get treatment earlier and in some cases even save their life.
For example, diabetes or uncontrolled diabetes is sometimes spotted first in an eye exam. A problem with chronic high blood pressure can be revealed when looking at the blood vessels in the eyes. Eye doctors sometimes spot systemic diseases or problems with the brain during a dilated eye exam. They may find signs or symptoms that indicate a person has had a stroke that has gone untreated. And lack of blood flow into the eyes might indicate a problem with the carotid artery.
Share Information With Your Eye Doctor
Tell your eye doctor about your family’s eye health history and if you or anyone in your family has been diagnosed with a disease or other serious health condition. This information can help your eye doctor in forming a diagnosis and identifying problems you’re at risk for to help prevent them from occurring.
Tell your eye doctor if you experience:
Blurry vision or other changes in vision
Dark spots in your field of vision
Flashes of light
Chronic issues with your eyes, such as redness, a burning sensation, eye irritation, or constant watering
Also let your eye doctor know about your allergies, occupation, and regular physical activities, as well as any and all medications or supplements you’re taking (including the strength of the medication and how often you take it).
It is important to let your eye doctor or any other doctor know about your health conditions even if you are being treated for those health conditions with medication or believe your symptoms are under control. As one ophthalmic technician explained to CareSync, “We frequently have patients answer ‘Do you have high blood pressure’ on the health questionnaire as ‘no’ because they’re taking medication for it. You still have the condition of high blood pressure and that’s important information the eye doctor needs.”
If at any point you notice something abnormal about the look of your eye, how it feels, or your eyesight, contact your eye doctor immediately.
If you experience symptoms such as severe eye pain which may cause nausea or vomiting, sudden loss of vision in one eye, or sudden hazy or very blurry vision, these can be signs of a medical emergency. Get to the nearest hospital right away and then call your eye doctor.
Which Doctor Do I See?
There are two types of eye doctors. The first is called an ophthalmologist. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) or an osteopathic doctor (DO) who handles the medical and surgical care of the eyes and visual system. Ophthalmologists can offer total eye care, handling everything from prescribing corrective lenses and diagnosing and treating eye diseases, to performing eye surgery.
The second is called an optometrist. An optometrist is a medical professional, but not a medical doctor. They earn a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. They examine eyes for vision and health problems, prescribe glasses or contacts to fix vision problems, and diagnosis and treat vision changes. An optometrist will refer patients to ophthalmologists if needed. For example, if a patient needs eye surgery, an optometrist cannot perform the surgery.
Which type of eye doctor you choose is up to you. Both types of eye doctors are instrumental in caring for patients eyes and play an important role in overall eye health.
Some optometrists and ophthalmologists specialize in specific conditions, such as retina problems or glaucoma, so consider your particular vision problems when choosing an eye doctor. You will also need to consider what your health insurance or vision plan will cover.
You may want to seek out a multi-specialty eye practice where there are both optometrists and ophthalmologists available to care for your eye needs.
What to Expect At Your Appointment
At your appointment, you’ll fill out paperwork and be asked about your general health, eye health, and any important family health history.
Your vision will be checked to determine how well you see up close or far away and if you need corrective lenses. If you already wear corrective lenses, have your eyeglasses with you for the appointment. If you wear contact lenses that were prescribed by someone else and can locate a copy of your most recent prescription for contacts, bring that to the visit.
General chairside tests will be performed to check your peripheral (side) vision, eye pressure (screening for glaucoma), how your pupils react to light, and how your eye muscles move.
If a dilated eye exam will be part of your appointment, drops will be placed in your eyes to dilate them (make your pupils open wide). Your eyes may be sensitive to light for a few hours after this exam, so bring sunglasses with you. You may also prefer to have someone drive you home. A dilated eye exam is extremely important, so please don’t let the idea of dilating your pupils prevent you from having it done.
Protect Your Eyes
Along with getting regular eye exams (your eye doctor can prescribe how often you should have them), here are a few tips to help keep your eyes healthy.
1. Eat Right
You’ve heard that eating carrots is good for your eye health, but here are additional foods to eat for healthy vision, according to WebMD:
Dark, leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, and collards
Salmon, tuna, or other oily fish
Eggs, nuts, beans, and other non-meat protein sources
Citrus fruits and juices
Oysters and pork
Studies have shown nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc, and vitamins C and E might help delay age-related vision problems, such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Choose foods rich in these nutrients for better eye health.
2. Stay Active
Daily exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight or decrease your chances of becoming overweight or obese. A healthy weight will lower your risk of developing diabetes or other health conditions that can contribute to vision loss.
3. Put Some Shades On
Wearing sunglasses protects your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. When looking for sunglasses, look for ones that indicate they block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays.
4. Rest Your Eyes
If you spend a lot of time staring at one thing, such as a computer screen, your eyes may become fatigued from holding them steady on something for so long. The National Eye Institute suggests trying the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds. This can help reduce eye strain.
5. Wash Your Hands
We touch our face and eyes countless times a day without even noticing. To reduce the risk of eye infection, always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer (wait for it to dry) before you touch your eyes. Whether you’re putting on makeup, rubbing your eyes (if you must rub your eyes, only do so gently and carefully), or putting in contact lenses, make sure your hands are clean.
6. Wear Contact Lenses Safely
If you wear contacts, follow proper hygiene steps for safely cleaning your lenses and your lens cases to avoid eye infections. Follow your eye doctor’s recommendations on how long you wear your contacts, how you clean and maintain them, and how you store them. Misuse/over-wearing of contacts can cause serious eye problems.
The Eyes Have It
August is National Eye Exam Month. With so many factors that can affect your eyesight and so many benefits associated with having your eyes checked, consider making getting regular eye exams a priority.
How often should you have your eyes checked? Ask your doctor for the recommended frequency. In general, according to WebMD, adults age 40 and older should have eye exams every 2 to 4 years to check for problems. Those who have a history of eye problems or those who are at risk for developing them should see an eye doctor every year.