The Importance of Regular Eye Exams

The Importance of Regular Eye Exams

481px-Snellen_chart_svgYour eyes may be the windows to your soul, but they are also a window to your overall health.

Just by examining your eyes with an ophthalmoscope, your family physician can tell whether you have hypertension (high blood pressure) or diabetes. Hypertension and diabetes are diseases that can start slowly and without symptoms, but can cause major damage throughout your body if they are not controlled.

An eye examination is the only examination that allows your physician to look directly at any network of blood vessels in the body without surgery. The blood vessels in the eyes are especially delicate and vulnerable and often offer the first physical sign of diabetes or high blood pressure. Checking these blood vessels offers your physician a unique glimpse into the body’s vast network of blood vessels.

When examining the eyes your physician also looks for eye diseases such as cataracts ( a clouding of the eye). Detecting problems with the blood vessels in your eyes is extremely important since any kind of damage to this particular network of blood vessels can cause some loss of vision and, in the worst case, blindness.

In addition to a physical examination of your eyes, your family physician may use a vision tester to conduct a vision screening. These vision screenings may include monocular and binocular testing of visual acuity (both near and far), colour perception, depth perception, as well as vertical and lateral phorias. A phoria is the “resting” position of the eyes, or where the eyes will focus when not fixed on a specific object.

Although a regular examination of your eyes by your family physician in essential to preventive care, most family physicians are not equipped to do a thorough examination of your eyes. As such, a regular visit to an optometrist or ophthalmologist is important.

The Canadian Association of Optometrists suggests the following schedule of examination for patients classified as being at low risk:

  •  Infants and toddlers (birth to 24 months) – By age 6 months
  • Preschool (2 to 5 years) – At age 3, and prior to entering elementary school
  • School age (6 to 19 years) – Annually
  • Adult (20 to 64 years) – Every one to two years
  • Older adult (65 years and older) – Annually

The frequency of examination for those at high risk will be determined by the examining optometrist on the basis of one’s health and visual status at the preliminary examination. Some of the factors which may indicate high risk are as follows:

  •  Infants and toddlers and preschool: Premature birth; low birth weight; mother’s health during pregnancy; family medical history; an eye ‘turn’; or congenital eye disorders.
  • School age: children experiencing difficulty at school; children exhibiting reading and/or learning disabilities.
  • Adult: diabetes; hypertension; family history of glaucoma; those whose work is visually demanding or who face eye hazards.
  • Older adult: diabetes; hypertension; family history of glaucoma; those taking systemic medication with ocular side effects.

The Canadian Opthalmological Society suggests that adults should see an eye doctor as soon as possible if they notice any of the following

  •  Change in vision such as sudden spots, flashes of light, lighting streaks or jagged lines of light, wavy or watery vision, blurry faces, distortions or wavy lines, haloes around lights, or double vision
  • Changes in the field of vision such as shadows, curtain-like loss of vision, black spots or blurriness in central or peripheral (side) vision
  • Change in colour vision
  • Loss of vision such as decreased or no vision in one or both eyes
  • Physical changes to the eye such as crossed eyes, eyes that turn in, out, up or down, pain, signs of infection (redness, swelling, discharge etc.)