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Eye Care Articles

Frequently Asked Questions About Eye Exams

Denis Humphreys, O.D. answers some of the questions that people frequently ask about eye exams.

Why should I have my eyes examined regularly? In addition to ensuring proper eyesight, regular eye examinations allow your eye care doctor to detect and treat diseases at the earliest possible opportunity. Some diseases do not have symptoms in their early stages.

A good example is glaucoma - the most common cause of vision loss. Typically, glaucoma does not cause pain, and you don't notice a change in your vision at first. By the time your vision is affected, we can only prevent it from getting worse because the vision loss is not reversible.

If you have regular eye exams, your eye care doctor can more readily detect potential problems and prescribe proper treatments to prevent vision loss. Don't determine the need for an eye exam on whether or not you are seeing relatively well. Even though your vision may be clear, undetected changes can occur from high blood pressure, diabetes, eye tumors and retinal disorders. So, don't just rely on changes in your vision.

Remember, unlike the rest of your body, the eyes don't usually hurt when something is wrong.

What is an acceptable frequency for eye exams?As a rule, you should not go beyond two years to have your eyes examined, and the recommended care is an exam every year. Those with a family history of eye diseases, diabetic patients, and anyone whose general health is poor or who are taking medications that may have potential side effects on the eye may need to have their eyes examined twice a year. You and your doctor should determine the eye exam schedule that best meets your eye care needs.

When should my child have his or her first eye exam?The American Optometric Association suggests that children should have their first regular eye exam at 6 months. Follow up exams should be done around age two to three because this is the age when a child's visual system undergoes its most rapid development, and when vision correction is most effective.

For example, your child could develop a "lazy eye" or amblyopia, which is a loss or lack of development of vision in one eye usually resulting from a failure of the visual system to use both eyes together such as in a case of crossed eyes. The "lazy" eye will not function as well as the other eye. The brain is incapable or refuses to acknowledge the image seen with the "lazy" eye, and the brain learns to ignore one image in favor of the other.

The eye that is ignored grows weaker from not being used since amblyopia occurs only in one eye. The good eye takes over, and the individual is generally unaware of the condition. Before the ages of two to three, the condition can be treated, and the brain will use that eye. After the ages of two to three, the neuro-connections are established, and the "lazy eye" is deep-seated. It can still be treated, but not as effectively. The earlier it is diagnosed, the greater the chance for complete recovery.

How frequently should children's eyes be examined after their initial exam?As with adults, children's eyes should be examined every two years - or more frequently if there is an eye or vision problem or a family history of eye disease. School children use their eyes more frequently than adults to read and perform other school activities, so it's extremely critical for them to have regular eye exams. Also, it is important to remember that an eye screening typically offered at school only tests distance. Screenings will not detect some vision problems. Your child can have problems with near vision, eye coordination and focusing and still have 20/20 distance vision. If left untreated, these problems can cause learning disabilities, headaches and other visual discomforts.

Do I need a special eye exam as I get close to, or past, age 40?You don't need a special eye exam over age 40, but it's critical that you have your regular eye exam at least every two years. As we get older, we are more susceptible to certain eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Getting your eyes regularly examined enables your eye care doctor to detect the first signs of disease and prescribe the appropriate treatments to prevent vision loss.