Annual Eye Exams
Most of us get our car serviced annually to make sure it runs smoothly. We also visit a dentist regularly to get our teeth cleaned. But how many of us get our eyes checked each year?
Many people wait until they notice a change in their vision to see a doctor. But eye problems are often silent – meaning they have no symptoms, and this can be dangerous to the person who is waiting to see a change.
A recent study found that one in four adults hadn’t had an eye exam in the past two years, and the same proportion was unaware that an eye exam could prevent them from losing their sight. Even if you’ve had laser vision surgery or have naturally good vision, you still need an annual eye exam.
Maybe you’ve heard of or received a vision screening. It’s not the same as a complete exam. Screenings are partial, limited eye evaluations that take place outside an eye doctor’s office.
Vision screenings can be an important first step to vision health, but they cannot and should not take the place of a comprehensive eye exam at an optometrist. A pediatrician or their staff or a school nurse usually performs vision screenings. They can help identify people who might have vision problems, but they will usually refer them to an eye care professional.
In some cases, screenings can include tests for muscle coordination, blur, and/or common eye diseases, but screenings can miss important vision issues that require treatment. It is important to understand that only an optometrist or ophthalmologist is trained and licensed to perform a comprehensive eye exam.
Don’t wait until a street sign looks blurry, or you have trouble seeing objects close up. In addition to detecting vision changes, regular eye exams can also detect life-threatening conditions like a brain tumor and high cholesterol.
Common Vision and Eye Problems
Sight is one of our most valued senses. The majority of knowledge we have about the world around us comes through our eyes. But there are a slew of common eye problems that can interfere with our enjoyment of life and how we see the world. The good news is your family eye doctor can help with any and all of these vision problems!
Here are a few of the eye problems that can be easily diagnosed in the annual comprehensive eye exam with your family eye doctor:
Presbyopia is when your eyes gradually lose the ability to see things clearly up close. It is a normal part of aging. In fact, the word “presbyopia” means “old eye” in Greek. You may start to notice presbyopia shortly after age 40. You will probably find that you hold reading materials farther away in order to see them clearly.
Have you noticed that you or your child squints when looking at something in the distance? This could be caused by myopia, or nearsightedness. Myopia is a refractive error, which means that the eye does not bend or refract light properly to a single focus to see images clearly. In myopia, close objects look clear, but distant objects appear blurred. Myopia is a common condition that affects an estimated 25 percent of Americans. It is an eye-focusing disorder, not an eye disease.
Staring at your computer screen, smartphone, or other digital devices for long periods won’t cause permanent eye damage, but your eyes may feel dry and tired. You may develop blurry vision, fatigue, or eye-strain. Some people also experience headaches or motion sickness when watching 3-D films, which may indicate that the viewer has a problem with focusing or depth perception.
Normally, humans blink about 15 times a minute, but studies show we blink half to a third that often while using computers and other digital screen devices, whether for work or play. Extended reading, writing, or other intensive “near work” can also cause eye-strain.
- Tired eyes
- Neck or back pain
- Burning/stinging eyes
- Difficulty focusing after extended periods of time
Eyestrain is a common condition that occurs when your eyes get tired from intense use, such as while driving long distances or staring at computer screens and other digital devices.
Eyestrain can be annoying. But it usually isn’t serious and goes away once you rest your eyes or take other steps to reduce your eye discomfort. In some cases, signs and symptoms of eyestrain can indicate an underlying eye condition that needs treatment.
Eyestrain signs and symptoms include:
- Sore, tired, burning, or itching eyes
- Watery or dry eyes
- Blurred or double vision
- Sore neck, shoulders, or back
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling that you cannot keep your eyes open
Having an annual comprehensive eye exam is the most important thing you can do to prevent or treat computer vision problems.
You may be surprised to learn that there is more than one type of migraine. Typically, the throbbing, insistent pain that’s characteristic of most migraine events is what comes to mind. However, a relatively small portion of migraine sufferers – about 1 in 20 people will experience visual symptoms without headache. This condition is commonly known as an ocular migraine.
An ocular migraine can cause vision loss or other vision problems that last less than an hour and typically affect only one eye. This condition is also sometimes called optical migraine, visual migraine, retinal migraine, ophthalmic migraine, or visual aura.
Ever had an uncontrollable eye twitch? Eye twitching is a pretty common condition. Called “myokymia” by optometrists, these annoying twitches usually affect only the lower eyelid of one eye; but the upper eyelid also can twitch.
Most eye twitches come and go, but sometimes a twitching eye can last for weeks or even months.
Almost all eye twitching is harmless. But if an eye twitch persists, it could signal a serious neurological condition affecting the eyelid. These conditions are much less common and should be diagnosed and treated by an optometrist.
If you’ve ever been a child or are the parent of a child, you’ve probably experienced pink eye. Pink eye is one of the most common and treatable eye conditions in children and adults; about 3 million cases of pink eye occur in the United States each year. Treatment is not always needed, and the course of treatment depends on the underlying cause.
Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, involves inflammation of the thin, clear tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye, or sclera. The inflammation makes blood vessels more visible, giving the eye a pink or reddish appearance. The affected eye(s) may be painful, itchy, or have a burning sensation. The eyes can also tear or have a discharge that forms a crust during sleep, causing the eyes to be “stuck shut” in the morning.
Double vision doesn’t just happen when you’re drinking, and it’s not just an album from Foreigner. Double vision – also called diplopia – will make you see two separate images of a single object.
There are several different types of diplopia and many different causes. Sometimes, double vision can be a symptom of a serious underlying disease or condition. For that reason, if you encounter double vision at any time, you should make an appointment with an eye expert right away.
You slather you and your family’s skin with sunscreen to protect everyone from UV rays. But are you doing everything you can to protect your eyes from UV rays?
There are three types of UV radiation. UV-C is absorbed by the ozone layer and does not present any threat. UV-A and UV-B radiation both pose long- and short-term negative effects on the eyes and vision.
Early detection makes all the difference in recognizing, preventing, and treating eye diseases. So don’t delay. Find an eye doctor near you and get a comprehensive eye exam every year.
Styes are red, swollen lumps that form along the edge of your eyelid, close to the lashes. Sometimes, a stye can occur inside or under the eyelid. It is a common eye condition that affects millions of Americans. Although styes are not normally serious, they can be irritating and painful.
Usually, styes can be treated at home. There are some situations, however, where it is important to consult a doctor.
A swollen eyelid is more than just a cosmetic annoyance. It can be scary, particularly if the swelling is severe enough to interfere with your ability to see.
Most causes of swollen eyelids are harmless, but seemingly minor problems can be quite serious. So, if you or someone you know is experiencing swollen eyelids, it is a good idea to seek care from an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Your eyes are often considered to be a window into your soul, so it’s understandable that you don’t want them to be red and sore. Eye redness can happen when the blood vessels on the surface of your eye expand or dilate. This can happen when a foreign object or substance has gotten into your eye or when infection has formed.
Eye redness is usually temporary and clears up quickly. Home remedies, such as compresses and artificial tears, can help relieve any symptoms you may be experiencing. If the symptoms persist or include pain or loss of vision, call your optometrist immediately.
Eye pain is also known as ophthalmalgia. Depending on where you experience the discomfort, eye pain can fall into one of two categories. Ocular pain occurs on the eye’s surface, and orbital pain occurs within the eye. Eye pain is common, but it’s rarely a symptom of a serious condition. Most often, the pain resolves without medicine or treatment.
Eye pain that occurs on the surface may be a scratching, burning, or itching sensation. Surface pain is usually caused by irritation from a foreign object, infection, or trauma. Often, this type of eye pain is easily treated with eye drops or rest.
Eye pain that occurs deeper within the eye may feel aching, gritty, stabbing, or throbbing. This kind of eye pain may require more in-depth treatment.
Eye pain accompanied by vision loss may be a symptom of an emergency medical issue. Call your ophthalmologist immediately if you begin to lose your vision while experiencing eye pain.
Clear, sharp vision can help you navigate the world, from reading traffic signs to making sure you don’t miss a step in your home. Blurred vision can make you feel like someone has put a filter over your eyes, and life is no longer in focus.
Blurred vision can affect your entire line of sight or just parts of your vision. This condition could include your peripheral vision, or how you see to the right or left of your field of vision. You can also experience blurred vision in only one eye.
Other ways to describe blurred vision include clouded or dim vision. There can be many causes of blurred vision. Examples of common causes are:
- Dry eye
- Ocular migraine
- Extended contact lens usage
Low vision means that even with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery, you find everyday tasks difficult to do. Reading the mail, shopping, cooking, seeing the TV, and writing can seem challenging. But, many people with low vision are taking charge.
Because of age-related disorders like macular degeneration and glaucoma, low vision is more common in adults over age 45 and even more common in adults over age 75. For example, one in six adults over age 45 has low vision; one in four adults over age 75 has low vision.
The most common types of low vision include:
- Loss of central vision: A blind spot in the center of your vision
- Loss of peripheral (side) vision: the inability to see anything to either side, above, or below eye level, although central vision remains intact
- Night blindness: the inability to see in poorly lit areas such as theaters, as well as outside at night
- Blurred vision: objects both near and far appearing out of focus
- Hazy vision: the entire field of vision appearing to be covered with a film or glare
Most eyes aren’t perfect. Even if you think you have 20/20 vision, it’s pretty typical to have another condition. But it could be so minor you might not even notice it. It’s called astigmatism and often goes hand-in-hand with other vision problems, like nearsightedness or farsightedness. Similar to these well-known vision conditions, astigmatism is very treatable.
Kids with astigmatism and adults may have difficulty reading text or seeing fine details in objects both near and far.
No one knows its exact origin. But while there may be different causes of astigmatism, there’s one reason that’s usually the culprit: heredity. If you have blurry vision, look to your family tree. Your parents or other relatives probably have it, too.
Whether your astigmatism is mild—or not so mild—it will require some form of medical correction for clear vision. Thankfully, most forms of regular astigmatism blurriness are easily correctable.
Health and Vision Conditions
When it comes to signs of eye disease, many Americans are blind to the facts. Vision loss from common eye problems and eye diseases can (in most cases) be prevented. The first step is simply taking care of your eyes and learning about your health.
What are some of the most common eye problems and eye diseases?
A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision. Most cataracts are related to aging. Cataracts are very common in older people. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.
A cataract can occur in either or both eyes. It cannot spread from one eye to the other.
Diabetic retinopathy affects blood vessels in the light-sensitive tissue called the retina that lines the back of the eye. It is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes and the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness among working-age adults.
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million Americans – more than cataracts and glaucoma combined.
At present, macular degeneration is considered an incurable eye disease.
Macular degeneration is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, the inside back layer of the eye that records the images we see and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain. The retina’s central portion, known as the macula, is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye, and it controls our ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces or colors, and see objects in fine detail.
Keratoconus is a progressive condition of the eye in which the front of the eye changes shape, resembling a cone.
The shape of a cornea determines how the light bounces to that retina. If a cornea is not perfectly round (often seen with nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism), it can focus the light in front of or behind the retina instead of directly to it, resulting in a blurry image instead of a clear one.
Keratoconus is uncommon – the Global Keratoconus Foundation estimates that somewhere between 50 to 230 people out of every 100,000 population are affected. Keratoconus occurs in both sexes and all races, and is found more frequently in people who have Down syndrome. It typically begins in the teenage years.
An ocular or subconjunctival hemorrhage occurs when a tiny blood vessel breaks just underneath the clear surface of your eye. You may not even realize you have an ocular hemorrhage until you look in the mirror and notice the white part of your eye is bright red.
A subconjunctival hemorrhage often occurs without any obvious harm to your eye. Even a strong sneeze or cough can cause a blood vessel to break in the eye. You don’t need to treat it. Your symptoms may worry you. But a subconjunctival hemorrhage is usually a harmless condition that disappears within two weeks or so.
Ocular hypertension is when the pressure inside the eye is higher than normal because the front of the eye does not drain fluid properly. This condition causes eye pressure to build up.
Higher than normal eye pressure can cause glaucoma, but ocular hypertension is not the same as glaucoma. With ocular hypertension, the optic nerve looks normal, and there are no signs of vision loss. However, if you have ocular hypertension, you are considered “glaucoma suspect.” That means you should see your optometrist regularly to be checked for glaucoma.
Ocular hypertension usually does not have any signs or symptoms. Because you can have high eye pressure and not know it, it is important to have regular eye exams.
The term “ocular migraine” can be confusing. It generally means a headache that’s accompanied by changes in vision. But the term is often used interchangeably to refer to two different conditions: migraine aura, which usually isn’t serious, and retinal migraine, which could signal something serious.
A migraine aura that affects your vision is common. Visual symptoms don’t last long. A migraine aura involving your vision will affect both eyes, and you may see:
- Flashes of light
- Zigzagging patterns
- Blind spots
- Shimmering spots or stars
These symptoms can temporarily interfere with certain activities, such as reading or driving, but the condition usually isn’t considered serious.
A retinal migraine is a rare condition occurring in a person who has experienced other symptoms of migraine. Retinal migraine involves repeated bouts of short-lasting, diminished vision or blindness. These bouts may precede or accompany a headache.
A retinal migraine — unlike a migraine aura — will affect only one eye, not both. But usually, loss of vision in one eye isn’t related to a migraine. It’s generally caused by some other more serious condition. So, if you experience visual loss in one eye, be sure to see your eye doctor immediately.
If you have dry eye syndrome, your eyes don’t produce enough tears or you aren’t able to maintain a normal layer of tears to coat your eyes. As a result, your eyes cannot eliminate dust and other irritants.
Reading extensively, working on the computer, or spending long hours in a dry environment may further aggravate your eyes if you have this condition. If you have dry eye syndrome, your eyes may also be prone to bacterial infections or the surface of your eyes may become inflamed, causing scarring on your cornea. Although it’s uncomfortable, dry eye syndrome almost never causes permanent vision loss.
See your optometrist right away if you have dry eyes and a sudden increase in discomfort or a sudden decrease in your ability to see.