A regular eye exam sounds logical, right? If you don’t detect changes in vision, your eyes must be healthy. If you do have an eye problem, your doctor will find it when he gives you a general physical.
Well…not always. To learn everything about visual health – and get early indicators of a surprising list of other potential conditions – most adults need an eye exam every year. If you’re lucky enough to have no family history of eye problems, a good health history of your own and don’t wear contact lenses, you might go every two years. But waiting longer invites multiple kinds of trouble. (You’ll find information on Horizon Eye Care’s Eye Exam Center page.)
You’ll hear more these days about checking vision at home online or in a facility that specializes in eyeglasses or contact lenses. Those tests will assess your vision, and they may tell you whether you need a prescription change, but they won’t alert you to early stages of disease like a regular eye exam. If you delay a full exam until your vision deteriorates noticeably, you may have waited too long for a doctor to repair the damage.
What Can I Expect During My Exam?
So, what happens in a comprehensive eye exam by a trained ophthalmologist or optometrist? (Both give full exams; ophthalmologists do surgery and have graduated from medical school.)
First, they check the level of vision while wearing your current eyeglasses or contacts. They determine your refraction, which is a measurement of the eyeglass or contact lens prescription necessary to focus the light that enters your eyes. which is a screening method to detect patients that are at a higher risk of glaucoma.
They do a slit-lamp exam, looking through a microscope at the outer structures of the eye: The cornea, anterior chamber, iris, pupil, and the lens. Then they look at the inner structure of the eye by dilating it. That lets them view the retina, the retinal blood vessels, the optic nerve, and the macula – which is responsible for the central part of your vision.
Some patients report blurring of the vision or an increase in light-sensitivity when dilated; the process briefly paralyzes the focusing muscles in the eye which temporarily makes your near vision less clear. Though recovery times have shortened, Horizon now also offers optomap, which is a specialized camera that allows your eye doctor to view an image of the back of the eye without dilating the pupil. Nothing touches your eye, and doctors can review those images immediately. However, you’ll still need a dilated exam from time to time. Not all patients are good candidates for the Optomap because of their age or because of other medical conditions. For example, diabetics should always have a dilated exam. Insurance doesn’t cover optomap.
A Regular Eye Exam Can Reveal Other Health Problems
Most people don’t realize how many medical conditions a regular eye exam can reveal. A tiny clot in the retinal blood vessels may indicate atherosclerosis are other cardiovascular conditions, which could trigger a stroke. Cancerous tumors can also spread to the eye from other parts of the body before they cause obvious symptoms; last year, ocular melanoma turned up in more than a dozen Huntersville residents – an extraordinary number for one small town – but was found too late to save all of them before it metastasized.
Swelling of the optic nerves could be a sign of multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, or increased pressure in the brain. Lupus, sarcoidosis, certain kinds of arthritis and even syphilis may manifest themselves in the eye before patients complain of other symptoms. A doctor who discovers inflammation or irregularities will recommend blood tests that pinpoint various problems.
The eye has often been described as the window to the soul. But it’s also a window to the rest of the body, once someone who knows how to look conducts a full examination.