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The Importance of Eye Exams As We Age

Posted on August 27th, 2021

As we’ve all learned lately, our health is paramount—and eye health is no exception. That’s why having a yearly eye examination is critical, especially for adults over age 65, whose vision is more prone to complications and changes. This Healthy Aging Month, we’re focusing on the importance of regular checkups, especially as we head into the golden years.

There are countless reasons why annual eye exams are essential, as they can help detect—and mitigate —serious health conditions. In fact, eye exams are not only critical for diagnosing eye diseases, but they can also reveal general health issues, too, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

A complete eye exam delves into both the internal and external health of your eyes and is facilitated by a doctor. Unlike a simple vision screening, an eye exam involves a series of complex tests, including an eye muscle movement test; a cover test, which reveals how well your eyes work together; an external exam and pupil reaction test; a visual acuity test; a refraction test to fine-tune the prescription; and a retinal examination, among other important evaluations, depending one one’s individual concerns.

Which conditions can an eye exam help detect?

The main reason why regular eye exams are so important is because they can spot problems at an early stage, when they are the most treatable. In other words, problems that go undetected can develop into more severe conditions, whereas if they are caught early on, they can most likely be treated and, ideally, cured.

There are several common eye conditions that doctors look for during a routine eye exam, including:

  • Cataracts: The eye lens is normally clear, but cataracts occur when the eye’s natural lens becomes cloudy. Although the condition can be treated with a relatively straightforward surgery, untreated cataracts can lead to vision loss.
  • Glaucoma: One of the leading causes of blindness for people over 60, glaucoma is an eye condition that harms your optic nerve. Since there aren’t any early signs or symptoms associated with it, annual vision exams are imperative in order to catch glaucoma at an early stage.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: Another leading cause of blindness in adults, diabetic retinopathy is also asymptomatic at its onset. The condition is triggered by damaged vessels in the retina.
  • Hypertensive retinopathy: Similarly to the two conditions above, signs of hypertensive retinopathy typically only develop later in the disease, making it a challenge to catch. Hyperensive retinopathy occurs when high blood pressure leads to a narrowing of blood vessels in the retina.

Not only can an eye exam detect common eye conditions, but they can also help spot other health problems that are entirely unrelated to vision.

A comprehensive eye analysis can reveal signs of cognitive decline, brain tumours, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, vascular disease and even sexually transmitted diseases. The list of possible illnesses that can be detected during a routine eye examination is extensive, making it well worth it to get checked regularly.

So really, eye exams aren’t just about your eye health—they’re really about maintaining your overall wellbeing.

How frequently should I get an eye exam?

Now that we’ve established the importance of getting regular eye exams, the question is: how often should you book one? The answer depends heavily on your age as well as other factors, including your general health and risk of developing eye problems.

The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends that school children aged 6–19 should have an eye examination annually (since they’re at the peak of development); adults aged 20–39 should have an eye examination every two to three years; adults between the ages of 40 and 64 should have an eye examination every two years; and adults over 65 should have an eye examination annually.

There’s a reason doctors recommend that adults over 65 should undergo annual eye exams. As people get older, vision changes are much more common. Aging can cause relatively mild eye concerns–like challenges reading smaller print and difficulty adjusting to lighting changes–as well as more severe diseases.

In most cases, though, standard age-related vision changes can be easily corrected with glasses or medication. Even with more serious conditions, surgery can often be performed to address concerns. The key, however, is to catch vision changes as early as possible, which is the main reason regular eye exams are so critical, particularly as we get older.

Protection and prevention 

Beyond getting regular eye exams, there are other measures you can and should take to protect your eyes as you age, and prevent potential problems from popping up.

It’s important to wear UV light protection, as the sun’s strong rays can damage vision and exacerbate cataracts and other eye conditions. A good pair of sunglasses can mitigate the risk, so always sport shades when you’re in the sun. Studies also suggest that frequent exercise and maintaining a healthy diet can contribute to long-term eye health.

But while these things are all good things to keep in mind, nothing is more important than ensuring you get your eyes checked by a professional on a regular basis. Book a comprehensive eye exam at your local FYidoctors today, and always keep a close eye on your vision health.