It may be that you have perfect vision, either through Lasik eye surgery or just because you've always had it. Perhaps your glasses or contact lenses suit you just fine, and you've had no problem with your eyes for a long time. Whatever the case, if you've put off getting an eye exam for more than a year, your eyes may have something to tell you — but you'll never know if you don't get a thorough eye exam.
The old saying is that “the eyes are the windows to the soul”, but in a very real sense, your eyes are the window to the rest of your body. Not only do they let in the light so you can see the world around you, but they can often be glimpsed into how the rest of your body is working, not just your eyes. How you see can affect aspects of your life that seem to have nothing at all to do with sight. For instance, children who have unknown vision problems often suffer academically. Because they have no idea what “normal” vision is, they may just assume they are less capable than others, never knowing the difficulty is all in their eyesight.
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Many believe they, or their children, have already been getting all the eye exams they need. After all, many schools have nurses or pediatricians who check the eyesight of each child on a yearly basis. Some doctors check eyes on a routine basis as a part of every general checkup. Everyone who has a driver's license has had to read the chart to make sure they can see well enough to drive. Unfortunately, that's not enough.
These simple tests, called vision screenings, may indeed show the need for further testing, but they are not a truly comprehensive eye exam which fully gauges the health of your eyes.
A comprehensive eye exam must be given by an optometrist or ophthalmologist — a doctor who specializes in eye care. The general practitioner is not trained to really assess the complete health of your eyes, and studies have shown vision screenings do not always lead to treating developing vision problems.
An eye exam checks, of course, for nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism, which are generally corrected by contact lenses, glasses, or a generally quick surgical procedure. But there is so much more that goes on in an eye exam which makes them necessary for the preservation of your vision and overall health.
- At their best, your eyes work as a team. Both look in the same direction, and focus on the same things. Yet, sometimes eyes can be just a little bit off. They might look perfectly aligned, but even a slight difference can cause eye strain, headaches, and other pains you might have never associated with your eyes.
- Strabismus is a more severe form of misaligned eyes, such as when the eyes are crossed. An eye exam may enable your doctor to avert strabismus, or prevent it from becoming the more severe amblyopia, which can lead to the brain actually shutting off a misaligned eye, sometimes permanently.
- The ability to focus can change over the years, which is why older people often need glasses. These changes come so gradually, you might not even notice them creeping up on you without a doctor's help.
- There are diseases specific to the eye which are difficult, or even impossible, to detect in a standard medical exam. A comprehensive eye exam could literally save your vision. Many of these diseases have no symptoms whatsoever until you actually start losing vision.
- An eye exam can not only save your vision — it can save your life. Your eyes have some unique features which are very helpful to medical professionals. A good look at the inside of your eye can give some indications into how the rest of your body is doing.
Still need convincing? Here are seven reasons why you should get an eye exam in the coming year.
1. Computer Vision Syndrome
Chances are good you've never even heard of computer vision syndrome, also called CVS, but it's a very real thing. All it takes is two hours a day in front of a computer, and you may develop this syndrome yourself. That headache you suffer after a long day of work could be entirely due to eye strain. Other symptoms include burning eyes, difficulty in focusing, dry or aching eyes, blurry or doubled vision, neck or shoulder pain, or sensitivity to light.
If you're suffering from CVS, your eye doctor can have you covered. There are eyeglasses especially for those who heavily use computers during the course of the day, which significantly cut back the ill effects of CVS. All it takes is a minor test during a comprehensive eye exam to determine if your computer use has had any effect on your eyes.
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2. Eye Diseases
This is a big one, all the more so because so many major eye diseases have no symptoms whatsoever. It's possible to never know you've got a problem until you start losing vision, because the major symptoms develop all at once or develop so gradually it's easy to miss them until they become too obvious to ignore. Fortunately, just about all these eye diseases are treatable, especially if detected early on, before they start causing major problems.
- Cataracts are one of those eye diseases that can sneak up, slowly stealing vision away. It is the leading cause of blindness in the world and people over 40 years old are particularly susceptible. As we age, the lens of the eye can start to cloud up, starting with a small part, but growing over time. While this condition used to inevitably lead to increasingly poorer vision and sometimes blindness, today it's relatively easily corrected by surgery, especially if caught before it develops to a great extent.
- Glaucoma is another eye disease that can be easily treated with early detection and treatment. If left unchecked, it can cause loss of vision, including blindness. One major indicator of glaucoma is pressure of the fluids inside the eye, which is why eye doctors will use an instrument that blows a puff of air into your eye during a comprehensive exam. This excess pressure can cause damage to your optic nerve, causing increasingly constrictive tunnel vision until all vision is lost. If caught early, pills or eyedrops can alleviate glaucoma. In other cases, surgery may be necessary.
- Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in Americans age 65 or older. The macula is the part of the retina, or back of the eye, which enables your central vision to be sharp enough to read or drive. Sometimes, the macular tissues can become thinner and begin to accumulate material deposits or have overly developed blood vessels. Both of these are forms of macular degeneration which can lead to blind spots in your central vision. While there is no cure, as of yet, if found and treated early, macular degeneration can be delayed or even set back somewhat.
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3. Important For All Ages
The above eye diseases are mostly concern for adults, especially adults heading into middle age or older. That doesn't mean younger people are clear of the need for comprehensive eye exams. The younger you get your child into an eye exam, the better. That absolutely does mean well before they're old enough to read a chart or even respond to a doctor's questions.
One of the tests performed at birth is an eye test — a baby's first. At first, it's only possible to see if a baby responds to light, but an infant should quickly be able to follow moving objects, usually in the first week. By six months or so, an eye doctor will be able to determine if your baby's eyes are focusing properly, working together as a team, and free of disease.
It shouldn't stop there, of course. Vision problems can have a big effect on a child's development, especially if they go undiagnosed and uncorrected. Not only can these problems develop into bigger issues, like lazy eye, but they can impede a child's ability to learn and read. Sometimes, a child having trouble keeping grades up may well just need a pair of glasses to be able to read and write (and have more confidence in the classroom)!
4. Protect Your Eyes, Protect Your Whole Body
All an eye doctor has to do is look deep into your eyes to assess your general health. Often, an eye exam can serve for early detection for diseases most believe have nothing at all to do with the eye, including high blood pressure and diabetes.
Inside the eye is a large number of blood vessels, and arteries, and a major nerve, all of which cannot be seen anywhere else in the body without invasive measures. Doctors can use this clear view to see signs of future difficulties. These problems can often be detected before any major symptoms manifest.
A recent study by a vision benefits company stated an eye doctor is the first to detect high cholesterol, 65% of the time. This was also instrumental in a large percentage of patients in early detection of hypertension and diabetes. Not only does this save lives, and vision, but a great deal of money.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), vision loss contributes to a large number of conditions, including depression, hearing loss, strokes, accidents, and even early death. Needless to say, there is also a fall in the quality of life if someone becomes unable to drive, or read, or travel at will to new places. A trip to the eye doctor protects a whole lot more than just your vision.
5. A Friendly Reminder
While you're sitting there, having your eyes examined, you'll undoubtedly converse with your eye doctor. It's a good opportunity to catch up on the latest news on how you can take better care of your eyes . Just as there are recommended ways to take care of your heart or your hair, there are good ways to protect and preserve your vision.
The good advice often starts with eating right, just as it does with so many other medical concerns. Good eye food comes in the form of oily fish, leafy greens, and citrus fruits. Your eye doctor might also recommend some good lenses to block UV light, and tell you about the 20-20-20 method of eye protection.
The 20-20-20 rule is simple to follow: every 20 minutes of close work or computer work, take a break of at least 20 seconds, by looking at something at least 20 feet away. That's all it takes to avoid all the discomfort that can come with eye strain, and it's just one of the ways a little knowledge from an eye doctor can help you protect your eyes.
6. It's Time Your Glasses Got A Trade-In
If you wear glasses, and you've worn the same pair for over a year, it's pretty likely they're out of style. And if you need corrective lenses, but don't have glasses, you might want to try a pair and see how they look on you. Today, they're so fashionable, even people who have perfect vision will wear a pair. By the way, if you are one of those people who have strictly decorative glasses, a trip to the eye doctor might well reveal you need a pair with prescription lenses after all.
If you start feeling things like neck strain or headaches — or if you find yourself squinting to read or to see things at a distance, it's time to get a pair of glasses. Even if you don't have any of those signs, even if your vision seems to be a sharp as ever, it's still a good idea to get an eye exam for all the reasons stated above.
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7. You'll Feel Better
While it's important to catch medical issues before they become major problems, there are few better feelings than coming out of a medical exam with a clean bill of health, eye exams included. All it takes is less than an hour for peace of mind that can last the whole year, once you know your eyes are working just as they should.
Whether infant or elder, even if your vision is sharp as a hawk's, a real and comprehensive eye exam can do you a world of good, whether that good is physical or mental — or both!