The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) estimates that 93 million adults in the United States are at high risk for serious vision loss, but only half of these individuals have had an eye examination in the past year.
While some people experience vision problems beginning in childhood, others are not affected until adulthood and may not recognize the signs of declining vision or the need to wear glasses right away.
Major vision problems cause an annual economic impact of 145 billion dollars per year in the United States, and vision disability is one of the top 10 disabilities among adults over the age of 18. Everyone should have their eyes checked periodically, but how often should you get an eye exam?
What is an eye exam?
When an ophthalmologist, or eye doctor, performs an eye exam, they will check your vision and look for any signs of eye disease or injury while checking the overall health of your eyes.
There are many different types of eye exams, each of which examines a specific aspect of your eye health or vision.
Getting regular eye exams is important because they help doctors detect eye problems and vision issues as soon as they develop, when they are the most easily treated.
How often should you get an eye exam?
There is no “one size fits all” answer when it comes to how often you should get an eye exam, as the recommended frequency varies depending on your age, risk of developing eye issues, and other health issues that you may have. In general, guidelines are described below.
Children aged 3 and under
Most babies first have their first eye exam at about six months of age.
Children under the age of 3 will have their eyes checked by their pediatrician, who will look for common eye issues like misaligned eyes, lazy eye, or crossed eyes.
If your child appears to have difficulty seeing or is experiencing symptoms of poor vision, an eye exam is recommended regardless of their age. More comprehensive eye exams typically occur between the ages of 3 and 5.
School-aged children and teenagers
Children should have an eye checkup again before entering first grade, as this is when reading becomes a more considerable part of the school day.
Children should have their vision rechecked every one to two years if they do not have vision problems.
Children who need glasses or have health issues that may impact their eyes should have their vision checked more often at the advice of their doctor.
How often adults should have their eyes checked varies depending on your age.
Adults in their 20s and 30s with no vision problems or health conditions that may affect their eyes should have their eyes checked every 5 to 10 years.
Between the ages of 40 to 54, adults with no vision problems or health conditions should have their eyes checked every 2 to 4 years. From ages 55 to 64, vision in healthy adults should be checked every 1 to 3 years, and after the age of 65, it should be checked every 1 to 2 years.
Adults who wear contacts or glasses, have a family history of eye disease or vision loss, have a chronic health condition that impacts eye health, or take medications that may impact risk factors for vision should have their eyes checked more frequently at the advice of their doctor, who will often recommend annual eye exams.
What are the different types of eye doctors?
There are three different types of eye specialists.
Ophthalmologists are licensed medical doctors who perform a wide range of services, including conducting complete eye exams, diagnosing and treating eye diseases and medical conditions, prescribing corrective lenses in the form of glasses or contact lenses, and performing eye surgery and other eye care procedures.
Like ophthalmologists, optometrists perform many similar functions but often handle more complex eye problems and surgeries.
Finally, opticians are eye specialists who make and sell corrective lenses, including eyeglasses and contact lenses.
Unlike ophthalmologists and opticians, they do not perform eye exams. Primary care physicians can also perform basic eye checks and screen for major eye health issues or vision problems.
What are the different types of eye exams?
Although most people are familiar with the basic vision test where you stand behind a line and read letters of varying sizes from a chart on the wall, there are many more types of more comprehensive eye exams that your doctor may perform depending on the vision or eye health issues that you are experiencing.
Complete eye exam
A complete eye exam is a very comprehensive eye exam that can take up to two hours to conduct.
A complete eye exam will include a review of your previous eye exams and medical history, as well as your family history as it relates to any medical issues that could affect eye health.
A visual acuity test, in which you will read numbers, letters, and symbols of varying sizes off of an eye chart, will also be conducted.
Depending on the outcome of your visual acuity test, other eye exams may also be conducted. An eye pressure test is also often performed.
If it is determined that you do not have 20/20 vision, your eye doctor will look for the source of what is called a “refractive error,” which is an error in vision caused by farsightedness, nearsightedness, astigmatism, or another eye condition.
First, the doctor will estimate the prescription you will need for corrective lenses using either a computerized refractor or by shining a light into your eyes and taking note of how light is reflected in the eye.
Next, the assessment is refined by looking through a device that resembles a mask and contains lots of different lenses, each of which will change your vision.
The doctor will ask you which provides the clearest vision in order to help narrow down your prescription.
Visual field test
Your doctor will test the range of what you are able to see out of the sides of your eyes during the visual field test. The visual field test helps to determine if there are any areas in your overall field of vision that are experiencing difficulty seeing.
In order to conduct the visual field test, you may be asked to look straight ahead with one eye covered and then tell your doctor each time you see their hand move. When patients are unable to see with a full field of vision, it provides the doctor clues about what eye condition they may be experiencing.
Eye muscle test
During the eye muscle test, your doctor will watch as you move your eyes to track an object as it moves across your field of vision.
Your doctor will be looking out for signs of poor muscle control, muscle weakness, or poor coordination.
Color vision testing
Some people are partially color blind or have difficulty seeing colors and don’t even realize it.
Eye doctors can perform an exam to screen your eyes for color deficiency by showing you a variety of colorful tests with different numbers and shapes embedded in the patterns.
People who are able to see color clearly will be able to easily pick out the numbers and symbols on each test, while those with difficulty seeing colors will struggle.
Other tests also exist to perform more intensive examinations, including glaucoma screening, retinal examination, and slit-lamp examination, each of which is used when your doctor suspects a certain issue with a specific part of the eye. However, these tests are not necessarily included in a standard eye exam.
What are some signs that you might need an eye exam?
While most people do well following the guidelines for eye exams outlined above, others might need to get exams more often.
If you’re noticing any of the following signs, you should try and schedule an eye exam sooner rather than later:
- You have a health condition that affects your eye health or vision, such as glaucoma or diabetes.
- You have a family history of health conditions that can affect your eye health and are over the age of 50.
- You struggle to drive safely at night and/or have difficulty seeing street signs when it is dark out.
- You experience motion sickness, dizziness, or have difficulty following a moving target with your eyes.
- You experience changes in vision, particularly after an accident or head trauma.
- You experience symptoms like redness, dryness, or itchiness of the eyes.
- You see floaters, spots, or flashes of light.
- You do not remember when you last had an eye exam.
- You get headaches, suffer from eye strain, or experience blurred vision when spending long periods of time in front of the computer.
- When reading books or the newspaper, you hold the text farther from your face, close one eye, or squint to see the words clearly.
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