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March 14, 2017

Eye exams – why you need them

Regular eye examinations are an important part of preventative health care, as important as having your teeth cleaned at the dentist or visiting the GP for your annual check up. There are many issues besides long- or short-sightedness that an eye check can identify and, what’s more, an eye test may also help pick up other health conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

One of the reasons that eye checks are so important is that many eye and vision problems have no obvious signs or symptoms. As a result, people are often not aware that a problem exists. Early diagnosis and treatment of eye and vision problems are important for maintaining good vision, eye health and preventing vision loss.

Visual conditions that an eye check can spot

  • Dry eyes: This is becoming a common issue in our modern technology-driven lives.
  • Pterygium: Also known as ‘surfer’s eye’, this condition is associated with excess UV exposure.
  • Cataracts: A clouding of the normally clear lens of your eye.
  • Glaucoma: A group of eye conditions resulting in optic nerve damage, which may cause loss of vision.
  • Macular degeneration: Age-related macular degeneration, a group of degenerative diseases of the retina, is a leading cause of loss of vision in
  • people aged 65 years and over.
  • Astigmatism: A common eye disorder in which the eye has trouble focusing light, which can usually be easily corrected by glasses, contact lenses or surgery.

Other conditions that may be detected

  • Retinitis pigmentosa: A group of genetic disorders that affect the retina’s ability to respond to light.
  • Keratoconus: A degenerative eye disorder that causes structural changes to the cornea.
  • Presbyopia: A condition that generally begins to occur around age 40, when people experience blurred vision when reading, sewing or working at the computer.

How eye checks can identify other health issues

Other conditions that may be detected by an eye check include diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension) and cardiovascular disease. Sometimes (thankfully rarely) optometrists may see signs of more serious health problems, for example neurological disorders, such as brain tumors.

Optometrists use an instrument called an ophthalmoscope, or a high-powered lens, to look at the retina at the back of the eye. The optometrist may take photos of your retina, which can provide information about the health of the retina, and becomes a record that can be referred back to in the future.

Diabetes can cause day-to-day fluctuations in vision, which often settle when blood glucose levels become stable. Photos can sometimes show changes in the retina’s blood vessels, which can happen when diabetics don’t manage their blood-sugar levels correctly.

Likewise, heart and blood-vessel problems (cardiovascular disease) may also result in changes to the normal appearance of the retinal blood vessels; they may appear thinner than usual or vary in thickness. Bleeding (hemorrhages) or other suspicious signs can also sometimes be detected.
Eye checks for children

Regular eye checks are just as important for children as they are for adults. A child’s learning and development, as well as their behavior, can be affected by eye or vision problems. Sometimes the signs of a problem in a child may be something that seems unrelated, such as being easily distracted or being a bit clumsy, or there may be no signs at all. Children should be checked before they start school, or earlier if you are concerned or notice any problems.

Generally a comprehensive eye examination will include an eye health check. To be sure, simply ask your optometrist about your eye health the next time you’re having your annual check-up.

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