Healthy Living

Can't remember your last eye exam?

Many vision problems develop gradually so it's probably time to go

Most eye conditions, like glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration, don't cause many symptoms until a person actuall
Most eye conditions, like glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration, don’t cause many symptoms until a person actually starts to experience vision loss. This reinforces the need for annual eye exams for all ages. (Adobe Stock

Think you don’t need a regular eye exam? You may need to take a fresh look at how often you see an eye doctor,

An eye exam can detect changes that affect your vision and eye health — and your overall health.

Eye care professionals recommend an annual comprehensive eye exam for all ages. Think of an eye exam as routine, like visiting your primary care provider once a year, having your teeth cleaned every six months, or getting your car’s oil changed every three months. It’s just maintenance.

It’s not uncommon for an adult who thinks they see just fine to have an exam reveal they can’t see as well as they thought, according to Dr. Ryan Veatch of Blink Vision by Veatch in North Liberty. “Being proactive, rather than reactive, is always the way to go,” he said.

STARTING YOUNG

About 90 percent of what a child learns is perceived through their eyes, Veatch said. Kids assume their vision is normal because they have no frame of reference. Vision issues are exacerbated by how much time kids spend in front of screens at school and for entertainment.

Scheduling a child’s first eye exam at 9 months to one year of age is ideal, Veatch said. He can check if a child’s eyes are tracking and if a child’s eyes work together, among other things. Although it is uncommon, some children are born with cataracts, and others have retinal tumors or injuries.

Although he recommends annual exams for all ages, children, at a minimum, should have their eyes checked before starting kindergarten, said Dr. Rob Kingus from Corridor Family EyeCare in Cedar Rapids. Even a small amount of needed correction can cause reading and attention problems.

“If you can’t see, you can’t learn,” he said.

COMMON CONDITIONS

Detecting problems with your vision can be difficult without a thorough exam because most eye diseases and systemic diseases cause no pain or symptoms, Veatch said. That’s because there are no pain receptors inside the eyeball.

Here are some of the most common vision problems you may encounter.

CATARACTS

A common vision problem — cataracts — causes the lens in your eye to become cloudy or distorted instead of being crystal clear. As they worsen over time, cataracts can affect one’s ability to read or drive at night. If you live long enough, you’ll probably develop cataracts, Kingus said, adding it’s almost inevitable.

Cataracts can be treated with a quick, 20-minute surgery, performed on one eye at a time.

“People are almost universally thrilled,” Veatch said. “It’s a pretty remarkable change.”

GLAUCOMA

Another slow developing eye condition is glaucoma, in which a higherthan-normal pressure in one’s eyes can damage the optic nerve. It can lead to blind spots in your side or peripheral vision, which can be difficult to notice with both eyes open.

Glaucoma is more typical in older people, but Kingus said he has treated glaucoma patients in their 40s. Many patients have no idea they have glaucoma until it’s advanced, reinforcing the importance of not skipping an annual eye exam. A lot of damage can happen to the eye, even in one year, he said.

If a test finds that your eye pressure is elevated and the optic nerve looks suspicious, special eye drops can be prescribed to lower your eye pressure. After that, an exam every three months or so can tell if your eyes are responding to the medication.

MACULAR DEGENERATION

As opposed to glaucoma, which can affect your side vision, macular degeneration often affects your center vision. If you look straight ahead and things in the middle look fuzzy, wavy, or distorted, macular degeneration may be the cause.

There are different forms of macular degeneration, some hereditary, but generally, it’s central vision loss, Kingus said.

Regular eye exams can detect the early stages of macular degeneration before a patient notices any vision loss, he said. This allows for proactive treatment. The good news? Progression can be slowed.

OTHER DISEASES

Vision isn’t the only thing checked during an eye exam. Eye care and medical care can work hand in hand to detect and treat a variety of conditions. A person’s eye health and systemic health are interconnected, Veatch said.

“The eyes let us peek into the body and gauge people’s health,” Veatch said.

Diabetes, leukemia, Lyme disease and high blood pressure are among the systemic diseases that can be detected by symptoms in one’s eyes.

If an eye exam shows something suspicious, a patient can be referred to their doctor or a specialist for future testing.

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