Think of dental care. Two times a year we get our teeth cleaned to help prevent cavities and gingivitis. We have all heard horror stories of people who never went in to the dentist and they wake up with excruciating mouth pain that requires a lot of dental work in the future. Some of these things could have been prevented with the recommended cleanings.
Now, lets talk about the eyes. Did you know you should see your optometrist annually regardless of your visual status. Optometrists do much more than ask “which is better, one or two?” They also assess your ocular health, the function of the visual pathway and visual skills that allow you to perform visual tasks throughout your day (such as eye tracking, teaming and focusing). Just like when you assess your health with your primary care physician, they may find diseases that you were unaware of - because they are asymptomatic. The same thing applies to your eyes. There are sight threatening conditions whose symptoms are minimal or non-existent until the condition is end stage. Functionally you could be missing more than you actually know. Why is it critical to catch vision conditions early? Unlike teeth, there are no implants to replace your eyes if they fail. Once you lose your vision it is impossible to re-gain your sight.
You are probably wondering what type of conditions can be identified during a routine eye exam. Eye conditions can range from eye turns to glaucoma. By assessing your vision your eye doctor can be the first to identify a brain tumor or lesion. Your optometrist's ability to view the fine blood vessels of your eyes also allows for the identification of diabetes or hypertension. The eyes have been called the windows to the soul, but they are also windows to your overall health.
Optometrists utilize important tests during your annual examination to determine if there is anything abnormal with your eyes of visual function.
Do you remember that test that seems like a rudimentary video game, where you click the button every time you see a squiggly line? That “game” is actually a test that can pick up early glaucoma, cortical lesions, pituitary lesions, and other conditions that you may not be aware of. In some cases, that side vision test can be more sensitive than an MRI when detecting brain lesions affecting the optic tract (and it costs a whole lot less). Check out our blog on the threshold visual field.
The dreaded puff of air actually is more than just torture, it is a test that assesses the pressure inside the eye (intra-ocular pressure). You have probably heard it is a screener for glaucoma; this is true but it also gives information about the internal environment of the eye (ex. inflammation in the eye).
The cover test (where the doctor takes an enormous spoon shaped object and covers one eye then the other) evaluates ocular posture, which can detect an eye turn. Changes in your ocular posture can be the result of a cranial nerve palsy; which can be caused by systemic disease, a stroke or a brain lesion.
Evaluating pupil function is important because it assesses the neurologic integrity and communication between the eye and the brain. The eyes may be located at the front of your head, but areas of the brain involved with vision extend to the very back. This means that damage anywhere along this long path can result in changes in pupil or visual function.
This short list a just a few of the tests that occur during a comprehensive eye examination. During a dilated eye examination optometrists and ophthalmologists can actually see signs of diabetes and hypertension, sometimes leading to a proper diagnosis with the patient's primary care physician. For the record a retinal photo is strictly a screening and does not replace a dilated examination; check out our blog on retinal photos and dilation. It is important that a schedule of dilations be incorporated into your routine of annual eye examinations. The frequency of dilation depends on the specifics of your eye and systemic health.
Please note that once visual function is lost it will not be recovered. Vision loss could affect your central vision (ex. Macular degeneration) or peripheral vision (glaucoma). Most people consider vision their most valuable sense, what value are you putting on your vision? Have annual eye examinations, they are an easy way to detect subtle changes in your vision that can even affect your health. Don't wait until it is too late.
Check out our blog on the difference between screenings and eye exams.