When it comes to annual check-ups for maintaining one’s health, oftentimes people overlook scheduling regular eye exams. While most people are pretty good about regularly arranging their doctors and dentists appointments, taking care of one’s eyes is many times forgotten.
This is puzzling, especially considering that your eyes are your primary windows to the world. They’re one of the most important organs that you have when it comes to sensing the environment around you. Therefore, regardless of your age or vision, maintaining regular eye exams with a qualified optometrist is vital for the health of these organs.
Vision Screening and Eye Exams: What’s the Difference?
The belief that a vision screening is the same as an eye exam is a commonly made and potentially dangerous mistake to make. Many people also think that if they pass a vision screening, then maintaining regular eye exams just isn’t important. This is also a potentially dangerous belief. For this reason, it’s important to know the difference between these two types of exams, and why everyone, even those that have passed their vision screenings, should still visit an optometrist on at least an annual basis.
A vision screening is not a comprehensive eye exam, and oftentimes isn’t even carried out by an actual optometrist. While still important, vision screenings are primarily used to identify subnormal visual acuity or major problems with one’s vision. They are rarely able to detect more subtle vision problems, or potentially blinding eye diseases. For this, it is important to visit an experienced eye care professional, regardless of the results of your vision screening test.
Eye exams are far more comprehensive evaluations and are performed by licensed optometrists. While eye exams measure your visual acuity as well, they also evaluate the health of your entire eye from front to back. Another important role that eye exams play is in detecting early signs of any serious eye conditions, such as cataracts, detached retina, glaucoma or macular degeneration.
What a Comprehensive Eye Exam Consists Of:
A good first step to understanding why you should start scheduling an annual comprehensive eye examination is by learning what exactly it’ll cover. While not all optometrists will follow the same procedures when giving an eye exam, below are the most common components of a thorough examination.
First and foremost an eye exam, much like a vision screening, will test your visual acuity. This usually involves the use of a projected eye chart and will measure both your distance visual acuity and your near vision. You will also be tested for subnormal vision or any other major vision problems. This test is primarily designed to check as to whether or not you need corrective lenses. If it’s determined that glasses are needed, and then a retinoscopy and refraction test is performed to find which prescription will work best for you. A refraction test can also determine your levels of nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), as well as presbyopia and astigmatism. You will often be tested for color blindness during this stage as well.
Another common test that you may undergo is called a cover test. During this test, one eye will be covered while your doctor will ask that you focus on a distant object. He will do this individually to each eye one at a time. This test is done to assess whether or not a patient is exhibiting signs of strabismus, or more subtle binocular vision issues. Binocular vision issues can potentially lead to amblyopia, or more commonly known as a lazy eye.
During a comprehensive eye exam, both an ocular motility and a slit lamp test will be performed as well. Ocular motility testing is done in order to check for any signs of potential eye movement issues, which may lead to eye strain and problems reading. Slit lamp tests are when a binocular microscope is used to examine the structure of your eyes. These devices are able to locate issues within your eyelids, cornea, iris, conjunctiva, lens, and sometimes even the retina and optic nerve. This important examination can help to diagnose numerous serious eye conditions and diseases, such as corneal ulcers, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration as well as a number of others. The pressure inside one’s eyes will also be tested to see if there are any signs of glaucoma.
Types of Eye Doctors
Depending on what your issue may be, there is more than one type of eye doctor that you can visit. While most eye exams will be performed by an optometrist, it’s still important to know what options are available. There are three primary types of eye doctors, including:
- Optometrist: Optometrists are the type of eye doctor that a patient seeking an eye examination will most likely visit. They specialize in conducting comprehensive evaluations of eye health. Some of the duties of an optometrist are prescribing glasses or contact lenses, diagnosing eye disorders, using drugs to treat diseases of the eye, evaluating your vision and performing cover, ocular and motility tests. If an optometrist finds an issue which will require surgery or more advanced treatment, then he will refer you to an ophthalmologist.
- Ophthalmologist: Ophthalmologists are able to do all the same duties as an optometrist, but they’re also trained to perform eye surgery. An ophthalmologist is who you would visit if you’re diagnosed with something that requires an invasive treatment.
- Opticians: An optician’s job primarily consists of filling prescriptions for eyeglasses, and sometimes contact lenses.
How Often Should You Have Your Eyes Checked
While getting regular eye exams is important for people of all ages, certain people should get their eyes checked more frequently than others. For example, those that wear corrective lenses need to visit the optometrist more often than those that do not. There are still a variety of other factors that come into play here, but one of the primary determining factors is a person’s age. Not only does age affect the frequency in which you should get an examination, but it also has an impact on which type of exam you should seek.
Below is a list of the types of eye exams you should seek, as well as the frequency in which different groups of people should visit an eye doctor:
Children Younger Than Five Years of Age:
It is recommended that you give your child his first eye examination at six months old, and another prior to starting kindergarten. This is because at this age your child’s eyes are constantly changing, so if an optometrist is able to catch a problem early enough, then treatment is far more likely to be successful.
During these first exams, a doctor will generally just look out for the most common eye problems. These include crossed eyes, turned-out eyes or amblyopia. They may do a more comprehensive test if necessary, but prior to entering school doctors generally just focus on the easy to spot problems.
Adolescents through Teenage Years:
Once your child becomes school-aged you should begin giving them annual eye examinations. Problems with eyesight have been linked to poor grades and difficulty concentrating, as it’s tough for a child to be successful in school when they’re having issues with their vision. Even if a child passes a vision screening, there could still be undetected issues that only a well-trained optometrist will be able to diagnose.
As an adult, you should continue to maintain your annual eye examinations. This even includes those who have had laser eye surgery or just have naturally good eyesight.
One of the major reasons that you need to continue to see an optometrist frequently as an adult is to look out for an increasingly common condition known as ‘computer eyes’. Nearly 90% of people who use a computer for three or more hours a day suffer from this condition. An eye exam can properly diagnose signs of ‘computer eyes’, and supply you with the correct type of lenses to help protect from further deterioration.
It’s also important to have regular appointments with your optometrist to look out for early signs of diseases such as diabetes and glaucoma.
As you get older you begin to become far more susceptible to an array of different eye conditions and diseases. The chances of developing problems such as glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy all increase with age. For this reason, during this period of your life is when you should be getting eye examinations most frequently. Visiting an optometrist two or more times a year is generally advised.
Those with Diabetes:
Within the United States, diabetes is the third leading cause of blindness. Therefore it’s extremely important for diabetics to have their eyes regularly checked. Many of the causes of diabetes-related blindness can easily be prevented through routine eye examinations. Visiting an optometrist one or more times a year is advised for those with diabetes.
Maintaining proper eye health is one of the most important things that you can do. Your eyes play such a vital function in your day to day life that it’s essential that you don’t take them for granted. With so many easily preventable diseases from which you can suffer, it’s vital that you visit a qualified optometrist often so that you can catch any issues as early as possible. Although certain groups may need to visit their eye doctors more or less frequently, it’s important not to overlook this vital step to overall health.