Most people know they should see the dentist every 6 months, but did you know that you should have your eyes checked once a year? If you have perfect vision, you may be wondering why bother. The fact is that most eye diseases don’t have any symptoms until that damage is far beyond repair. Many of these eye diseases are treatable, and sometimes even preventable, when detected early. Let’s take a deeper look at the parts of an eye exam so you can understand how your doctor determines if your eyes are healthy.
Medical History: Did you know that nearly every systemic medical condition can have an effect on your eyes? Many people wonder why the eye doctor needs to know their medications or history but it all plays a role in your eye health. Conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, and rosacea can all affect the eyes. But even conditions like anxiety, depression, and rheumatoid arthritis can affect the eyes, primarily because of medication side effects. It is also important to be familiar with your family history since this plays a role in determining your risk for certain eye conditions such as glaucoma and macular degeneration. The more complete picture your eye doctor has of your health, the better she can evaluate your risk for eye diseases.
Visual Acuity: Most people assume the purpose of an eye exam is to determine if you need glasses or contacts. While this is important to assess, measuring vision also tells your doctor a lot about the health of your eyes. Not all blurred vision is caused by the need for corrective eyewear. Conditions like cataracts, dry eyes, and retinal swelling can all present as blurry vision but are not improved with a new glasses prescription. We also find that some changes in prescription may be a sign of an underlying condition, such as uncontrolled diabetes.
Ocular Health Exam: There are many tests performed within an eye exam that give information about eye health, vision, and neurological function. Not all of these tests may be performed at every exam since some are done based on medical history and concerns verbalized by the patient.
Pupils and Extraocular Muscles: Checking how your pupils respond to light and how your eyes track a target can help your doctor confirm your optic nerve is working properly, as well as your brain’s ability to coordinate eye movements and perception.
Visual Field: We also screen your peripheral vision which is another way to assess optic nerve function. This test is typically associated with part of our glaucoma screening; however, visual field defects can also be caused by more serious conditions such as strokes and brain tumors.
Color Vision: Since the majority of color vision deficiencies are genetic, this test is usually only performed at a child’s first eye exam. However, acquired color vision deficiencies can be associated with conditions like MS, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.
Intraocular Pressure: Most people associate eye exams with the dreaded air-puff test. And while we all hate being blasted with air in our eyes, the test does give crucial information. The good news is that our office has replaced this test with a more comfortable and more accurate test that helps us screen for glaucoma and other conditions that affect eye pressure. In general, elevated eye pressure cannot be felt, unless the pressure is extremely high. This is why glaucoma is often called the silent thief of sight--although this condition is associated with high eye pressure, it is rarely high enough to cause symptoms.
Slit Lamp Exam: This is basically a microscope designed to assess external and internal eye health. This is where the majority of diseases will be found. We look for things like dry eyes, cataracts, allergies, vascular conditions, glaucoma, macular degeneration, vitreous floaters, and retinal holes and tears. You are also given the option to have your eyes dilated, which means putting drops in your eyes to make your pupils bigger. While this isn’t always a pleasant experience due to increased light sensitivity and blurred near vision, the dilation does give a much more thorough exam to evaluate the internal structures of the eye.
As you can see, there are many parts to an eye exam that give usual information about your vision and ocular health. Eye exams are quick and painless and should be on your calendar once a year. Start the new year off right by checking this simple task of your To Do list!