Vision is a funny thing because the brain is such an incredible adaptor. As your vision fades, the brain quickly adapts to accommodate vision loss. Unless the loss is sudden or dramatic, this tricks you into thinking you can see just fine when, in fact, it’s time for a new eyeglass prescription. This is why most optometrists and ophthalmologists recommend complete eye exams at least once every two to three years.
Caring For Your Eyes
That being said, there are different recommendations based on age, family and personal medical history, whether you currently wear glasses and/or contacts, and other risk factors.
Age six months to 20 years
Unless you or your pediatrician notice signs of vision loss, pediatricians, optometrists, and ophthalmologists recommend having your baby’s vision tested at six months of age. It is a good idea to have your child’s eyes tested again before s/he enters kindergarten or first grade. After that, it is up to you.
However, experts have assessed that 80% of what children learn is absorbed visually, so ensuring a child can see clearly is the best way to facilitate academic and social learning success. We recommend having children’s eyes checked every two years unless you notice signs of potential eye strain. If your child wears glasses, she’ll need an eye exam every six months to a year to verify the prescription is still accurate.
Signs of eye strain or vision loss in children include:
- Frequent blinking or rubbing of the eyes
- Winking one eye for better focus
- Complaints of headaches or fatigue
- Tilting the head to the side
- Holding reading materials close-up to (or far away from) the face
- Complaints of double vision
- An eye that strays to one side or the other
- Difficulty remembering what s/he read
- Unusual inattention at school (often because s/he can’t see what’s written on the board or text/images on a screen, etc.)
Additional risk factors indicate a child should have his/her eyes checked more frequently throughout childhood. These include:
- Premature birth or low-birth–weight
- Family history of eye disease
- Crossed eyes
- Infection of mother during pregnancy (AIDS, STDs, herpes, rubella, chickenpox, etc.)
- History of frequent physical illness or diseases
- Developmental delays
In most cases, your child’s pediatrician will let you know if more frequent eye exams are recommended. Always provide a complete family and medical history to your optometrist or ophthalmologist so s/he can adequately assess your child’s recommended eye exam schedule.
Age 20 to 39
Most adults age 20 to 39 should have a complete eye exam every two to three years. At this point in your life, you are less likely to experience sudden or more rapid vision loss.
African-Americans are at higher risk of experiencing vision loss between the ages of 20 and 39, so they should schedule exams every one to two years.
You should have your eyes checked more often if you:
- Wear glasses and/or contacts
- Are taking medications that are known to cause vision loss or visually-related side effects
- Have a family history of eye disease
- Have diabetes or high blood pressure
- Experienced a previous eye surgery or injury
Age 40 to 64
The eyes go through continuous changes between the ages of 40 and 64. In addition to diminishing vision and increasing lens prescription changes, the lens of the eye slowly begins to harden from about age 35. This impacts near vision and is the reason most adults 45 years and over need reading glasses. This age-related far-sightedness is called presbyopia.
Adults between the ages of 40 and 64 are also more prone to developing health conditions that contribute to vision loss such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or side effects related to prescription medications.
Age 65 and beyond
Once you reach age 65, we recommend having a complete eye exam every year. In addition to progressing presbyopia, seniors are more likely to develop cataracts and/or vision-related issues as a result of health conditions.
Risk factors particular to seniors include:
- A family history of glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, and other eye conditions/diseases
- Previous history of eye trauma or surgery
- The onset of health conditions known to affect vision such as diabetes, heart disease, etc.
What Is A Complete Eye Exam?
You may have noticed we’ve used the term, “complete eye exam,” throughout this post. A complete eye exam is different from the cursory vision test where you stand or sit behind a line and read off varying-sized letters from an eye chart (called a Snellen Eye Chart).
A complete or comprehensive eye exam is thorough, requiring about 1 ½ to 2 hours to complete. The eye exam includes:
Review of your eye exam and medical history
Your family and personal medical histories are clues to the types of vision issues you may experience over time. Your lifestyle also matters, so we’ll keep our records up to date and note any potential risk factors we’ll want to look out for over time.
We’ll put you 20-feet in front of the standard Snellen Eye Chart to read off the letters, numbers, or symbols. First, you’ll read them with one eye covered, then the other eye, and then with both eyes.
Refraction and other diagnostic tests
If you don’t have 20/20 vision, we’ll continue to look for your “refractive error.” This error is due to nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, or another eye condition that’s affecting vision.
Then, we use other diagnostic tools such as retinoscopes, autorefractors, and phoropters. These provide a prescription to create lenses (eyeglasses) and correct the error. The goal is to give you as close to 20/20 vision as we can.
Eye focusing and teaming tests
Your optometrist or ophthalmologist looks at how each of your eyes focuses (or not) and how they work together as a team.
Tests to determine eye health
Finally, we want to get a good look at your eyes’ anatomy, and we use multiple tools to do that. They include:
- Slit lamp test. We look at the external and internal parts of the eye in detail, specifically looking for signs of healthy aging and/or indicators of eye issues, such as conjunctivitis, cataracts, macular degeneration or retinal detachment.
- Tonometry. This tests for glaucoma by testing the pressure inside your eye. Glaucoma causes blindness, so early detection is key.
- Pupil dilation. We’ll dilate your pupils to get a better look at the back of your internal eyeball. This allows more light to enter your eye, so bring a pair of sunglasses with you to wear for a few hours until your eyes return to normal dilation. If you forget, we’ll provide a shaded pair of eye wraps for you to wear outside.
Don’t Put Off Your Eye Exam
Are you or your family overdue for a comprehensive eye exam? Contact us here at the Atlantic Eye Institute to schedule an appointment.