Loss of eyesight is usually a gradual process. You may have only a slight awareness that your eyesight is declining, until you get a new pair of glasses or contact lenses, and suddenly the world comes back into clear focus. You pick up a book, and can read the lines of type. You are driving in your car, and you can read the street sign on the next block. Because the process of vision loss is so subtle, it is important for you to remember to monitor your eyesight.
Approximately 11 million Americans older than 12 years old need glasses, but getting vision correction is only one reason to visit your eye doctor. You need to get regular eye exams in order to identify serious eye diseases early on, so that you can protect and preserve your vision. Many of these eye diseases are asymptomatic in their beginning stages, and only your eye doctor knows for sure.
Your optometrist or ophthalmologist can detect eye diseases in the earliest stages. An eye exam includes tests for visual acuity (sharpness), depth perception, eye alignment and eye movement. The eye doctor will administer drops in your eye to enlarge your pupils, allowing the doctor to see inside your eyes and determine if there are health problems. During the exam, the doctor may even find indications of high blood pressure or diabetes before your primary doctor does.
These common eye diseases can cause permanent vision loss or even blindness:
– Cataracts, or clouding of the lens, is the primary cause of vision loss in the United States
– Diabetic retinopathy, in which diabetes damages blood vessels in the back of the eye, is the leading cause of blindness in American adults
– Glaucoma, a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve
– Age-related macular degeneration, a gradual breakdown of light-sensitive tissue in the eye
It has been estimated that 61 million Americans are in danger of vision loss, and only half of those have consulted an eye doctor in the past year.
Although vision loss is more common in older people, children also need eye exams. Children should be checked at least once between 3 and 5 years of age for a condition called amblyopia. People with diabetes should have a dilated eye exam annually.
People at elevated risk for glaucoma should have a dilated eye exam every 2 years. This includes:
African Americans aged 40 years and older
Everyone older than age 60, especially Mexican Americans
People with a family history of glaucoma.
If you have one of the following problems, see your eye doctor right away; don’t wait for an annual checkup:
Draining or redness of the eye
Floaters (tiny specks that appear to float before your eyes)
Circles (halos) around lights
Flashes of light
Because of America’s aging population, the number of visually-impaired people in the country is expected to double by 2030. Protect your precious eyesight by having regular eye exams.