Why Are Eye Exams Important?

To safeguard your precious gift of sight, it’s important to have regular eye exams regardless of your age or physical health.

During a comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor will check your eyes for common eye diseases, assess how your eyes work together as a team and determine your prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses. He or she also will evaluate your eyes as an indicator of your overall health.

Who should get their eyes examined?

Eye examinations are an important part of health maintenance for everyone. Adults should have their eyes tested to keep their prescriptions current and to check for early signs of eye disease. For children, eye exams can play an important role in normal development.

Vision is closely linked to the learning process and it is important to have your child’s eyes examined to rule out learning-related vision problems. Many times, children will not complain of vision problems simply because they don’t know what “normal” vision looks like. If your child performs poorly at school or exhibits a reading or learning problem, be sure to schedule an eye examination to rule out an underlying visual cause.

What is the eye doctor checking for?

In addition to evaluating whether you have nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism, your eye doctor will check your eyes for eye diseases and other problems that could lead to vision loss. Examples of problems your eye doctor will be looking for include:

  • Strabismus: Strabismus is misalignment of the eyes. Your eye doctor will check your eyes’ alignment to be sure that they are working together. Strabismus causes problems with depth perception and can lead to amblyopia.
  • Amblyopia: Amblyopia is reduced eyesight (usually in one eye only) due to the brain ignoring visual input from the eye or because images from that eye are significantly less clear because of unequal refractive error in the two eyes. Amblyopia often is caused by strabismus and is an adaptation by the brain to prevent double vision. Treatment of amblyopia usually involves treating the underlying cause of the condition, and then patching the “good” eye for a period of time to force the brain to start using the amblyopic eye so good vision can develop in that eye.
  • Eye Diseases: Many eye diseases, such as glaucoma and diabetic eye disease, have no obvious symptoms in their early stages. Your eye doctor will thoroughly check the health of your eyes, looking for signs of early problems. In most cases, early detection and treatment of eye diseases can help reduce your risk of permanent vision loss.
  • Other Diseases: Your eye doctor often can detect early signs of systemic conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol by looking at the retinal blood vessels inside your eyes. In some cases, a comprehensive eye exam is how these conditions are first discovered.

For example, diabetes can cause small blood vessel leaks or bleeding in the eye, as well as swelling of the macula (the most sensitive part of the retina), which can lead to vision loss. It’s estimated that one-third of Americans who have diabetes don’t know it; your eye doctor may detect the disease before your primary care physician does, especially if you’re overdue for a physical.

Vision screenings and comprehensive eye exams

Vision screenings are general eye tests that are meant to help identify people who are at risk for vision problems. Screenings include brief vision tests performed by a school nurse, pediatrician or volunteers. The eye test you take when you get your driver’s license renewed is an example of a vision screening.

Vision screenings can suggest that you need an eye exam, but they are not a substitute for a comprehensive eye exam.

A comprehensive eye examination is performed by a licensed eye doctor and includes multiple tests of all aspects of your vision, including glaucoma testing. Based upon the results of your exam, your doctor will then recommend a treatment plan for your individual needs.

Only a licensed eye doctor can provide a comprehensive eye exam. Family physicians and pediatricians generally are not trained to perform complete eye exams, and studies have shown that they can miss important vision problems that require treatment.

Treatment plans following a comprehensive eye exam may include eyeglasses or contact lenses, strabismus surgery or vision therapy for eye alignment or binocular vision problems, medical treatment for eye disease or simply a recommendation that you have your eyes examined again in a specified period of time.