Many of us think of going to the eye doctor only when we think we might need glasses or change in prescription. This is of course a vital part of an eye exam for those who need corrective lenses, but it’s important to have a comprehensive eye exam even if you don’t need glasses or have any symptoms of problems with your vision. During the exam, the eye doctor will be looking for early signs of any eye disease that could affect your sight in the future.
There are many types of diseases of the eye that don’t present any symptoms at first, which is why regular eye health checks are necessary, and should be part of your overall healthcare regime.
Among other things, your ophthalmologist will perform several tests that allow him or her to see the back of your eye, which is called the retina, and test how your eyes process light. Transforming light into images is probably the most important component of your visual system, so testing the retinas for any issues is very important. Diseases of the retina include age-related macular degeneration (the deterioration over time of the macula, the area at the centre of the retina), retinal detachment, “floaters” (specks that float in your field of vision), or diabetic eye disease (common among patients with diabetes).
The cornea and lens covering the eye are something else the doctor will want to take a closer look at. Unlike the rest of the eye, which receives its nourishment from the blood vessels surrounding it, the cornea is clear, so that function must be supplied by tears and the aqueous fluid in the front of the eye. An imbalance in that fluid level can result in dry eye, excessive tearing, or inflammation. When the lens becomes less transparent or clear, this clouding of the tissue is known as cataracts – something else it’s possible for your doctor to detect before you notice any symptoms.
The shape of the cornea is very important as well: it’s this part of the eye that sends refracted light back to the retina, so a misshaped cornea can result in vision problems such as astigmatism (which causes blurred vision), short-sightedness, or long-sightedness. Misalignment of the eyes can lead to amblyopia (or “lazy eye), strabismus (or “squint”).
Your doctor will want to test for glaucoma as well. Glaucoma affects the optic nerve, which is the part of the central nervous system connecting the eye to the brain. This is where images from the retina are coded and compressed into data for the brain to process and interpret into the things we see. If damaged, there is a build-up of pressure in the optic nerve which will begin to affect the vision. It’s a common condition, but again, most people won’t realise they have it at first. Left untreated, it can lead to severe loss of vision, so it’s very important that your doctor test for glaucoma as part of a comprehensive eye exam.
Diseases and disorders can run the gamut from mere inconveniences, to serious threats to healthy vision. Even if you’re not currently having any problems with your sight, you should book an eye appointment every 1-2 years. And if you are having symptoms, such as blurred vision, eye pain, sudden loss of vision, or headache, you should arrange to speak to an eye care professional right away.
This article is written on behalf of Moorfields Hospital in UAE.