Many eye conditions – potentially blinding ones – don’t have early symptoms. And some serious systemic diseases can first be diagnosed by an ophthalmologist. So it is important to have a complete eye examination once a year.
First exam for kids:
I recommend that children have their first full eye exam at age four unless problems are suspected earlier. Vision screenings done at a pre-school or at a pediatrician’s office cannot always detect problems with the eyes. An ophthalmologist can do objective measurements which don’t depend on a child’s ability to recognize letters or pictures. We can see if a child is near- or far-sighted, check for amblyopia (weak vision in one eye), improper alignment of the eyes, and anatomical irregularities in the cornea, lens and retina. If problems are discovered, they are often easier to treat at a young age.
From age eight onward, children and adults should have yearly eye exams. There are many reasons for this including:
Vision testing: Our vision can sometimes change slowly enough that we don’t recognize it. Children may not know what normal vision looks like and may be compromised at school because so much information is visual. Adults can have sub-optimal driving vision which can impact safety on the road.
Systemic disease: An ophthalmologist will review all medications to see if any may be impacting your eye health. Additionally, because the eye is the only place in the body where blood vessels and nerves can be seen directly, an eye exam can reveal certain systemic diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, some neurologic conditions and others.
Cancer screening: Tumors can be seen in the iris, the optic nerve, the retina, and in the choroid- the layer behind the retina. Melanoma – a particularly dangerous tumor usually found on the skin – can occur in the choroid as well. Early detection can often lead to complete cures.
Examination for eye diseases: A complete eye exam will include checking for many eye diseases which can affect vision. Dry eyes, cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma are some of the more common conditions found. Glaucoma – a disease which usually involves high pressure in the eye which can damage the optic nerve – has no symptoms until very late. Called the “sneak thief of sight”, glaucoma can occur at any age and is usually easily treated. But it can cause blindness if it isn’t detected. An eye examination is the only way to diagnose glaucoma.
Glasses and contact lenses: Checking for proper eyewear fitting is also an important part of an annual exam. If they are not properly fitted, contact lenses can lead to serious eye infections and permanent scarring of the cornea. Sunglasses with proper ultraviolet filtering can improve comfort, make driving safer, and help prevent damage to the internal structures of the eye.
Annual eye exams are an important part of preventive health care. Just as you should see your dentist and general physician each year, you should visit your eye doctor as well. An ophthalmologist – an MD trained in the medical and surgical treatments of the eyes – is the best person to help you continue to see your best.
– Donald McCormack, MD
To schedule and eye exam with Dr. McCormack, please call (303) 440-3049