Just like screenings to check our dental health, cholesterol and blood pressure, regular eye exams are an important part of maintaining good health. However, unless you wear glasses or contacts, eye exams are oftentimes overlooked. Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, taking steps to protect and maintain your vision can have a positive impact on other aspects of your health.
In fact, people with poor vision are at an increased risk of developing diabetes, poor hearing, heart problems, depression, and high blood pressure, among other conditions, when compared to those without vision problems, making it even more important to take good care of your eyes.
Read on for recommendations to help you keep your eyes in tip-top shape.
Which eye doctor should you see?
Just like how you choose your primary care provider and dentist, it’s important to choose an eye doctor or eye care professional based on your specific needs and medical history. There are three main types of eye health providers to consider:
- Ophthalmologists: These are medical doctors who specialize in caring for a wide range of eye health issues, including diagnosis and treatment of all eye diseases or conditions. If you are at high risk of developing an eye disorder or have a personal or family history of eye issues, it may be best to visit an ophthalmologist for your regular eye exams and screenings.
- Optometrist: While considered eye doctors, optometrists are licensed to practice optometry, but not medicine (like ophthalmologists). Optometrists focus on vision testing and correction (such as prescribing glasses or contacts), as well as screening for common eye disorders like glaucoma or cataracts. If you wear glasses or contacts and/or are healthy with a low-risk of developing eye disorders, an optometrist is a great option to conduct your regular eye exams and screenings. If they identify an issue during your exam or screening, they may refer you to an ophthalmologist for further care.
- Optician: If you wear glasses or contacts, opticians play a significant role in your eye care by helping to fill prescriptions from your ophthalmologist or optometrist and find the corrective eyewear that works best for you. Opticians do not conduct eye exams or screenings.
For more information on the types of eye care providers, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s website.
When should you be screened?
While regular eye exams are important for everyone, regardless of age, it’s especially critical as we get older since the risk of developing an eye disease increases with age.
In addition to regular eye exams to monitor your vision, you should also schedule regular eye disease screenings, which are a more extensive check to ensure your eyes healthy and not exhibiting any signs of disease.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that adults get a baseline eye disease screening when they turn 40. This is when early signs of eye disease often appear, so it provides the best opportunity to diagnose and treat any issues early. Additionally, your eye doctor can determine a baseline for your eye health to refer back to during future screenings and exams.
However, anyone at high risk for developing eye diseases or conditions should see their providers before age 40 for an exam and screening. Risk factors include, but are not limited to:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Sickle cell disease
- Family history of eye disease, such as glaucoma
- Previous eye issues, including trauma or detached retina
Talk to your eye care provider to determine when is best to start screening for common eye diseases.
How often should you be screened?
During the baseline screening at age 40 (or earlier as needed), your eye doctor can determine how often you should be screened for eye diseases moving forward. Generally, for those between the ages of 40 and 65 and at low risk, it is recommended to schedule a regular eye exam every two years with more extensive screenings every four years. However, once you reach age 65, it is recommended to be screened at least every other year as the risk of developing certain conditions increases as you get older.
What conditions are generally included in a screening?
Eye disease screenings can identify signs of common conditions before symptoms appear, including:
Additionally, it is possible to find signs of other diseases that may affect the eyes through this screening, including high blood pressure or diabetes.
Your eyes may be “the window to your soul,” but they may also offer insights into your overall health, and eye disease screenings are an important part of this.
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