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An eye exam helps detect eye problems at their earliest stage — when they’re most treatable. Regular eye exams give your eye care professional a chance to help you correct or adapt to vision changes and provide you with tips on caring for your eyes.
Several factors may determine how frequently you need an eye exam, including your age, health and risk of developing eye problems. General guidelines are as follows:
Children 5 years and younger. For children under 3, your pediatrician will likely look for the most common eye problems — lazy eye, crossed eyes or turned-out eyes. Depending on your child’s willingness to cooperate, he or she could undergo a more-comprehensive eye exam between the ages of 3 and 5.
School-age children and adolescents. Have your child’s vision checked before he or she enters first grade. If your child has no symptoms of vision problems and no family history of vision problems, have his or her vision rechecked every one to two years. Otherwise, schedule eye exams based on the advice of your eye doctor.
Three kinds of eye specialists may perform an eye exam:
If you wear contact lenses or glasses, bring them to your appointment. Your eye doctor will want to make sure your prescription is the best one for you. Also be prepared to remove your contacts or glasses during the exam. Tests that use dye (fluorescein) to temporarily color your eyes may permanently discolor your contact lenses, so you’ll be asked to remove them for those tests.
If your eyes are dilated as a part of your eye exam, you may want to bring sunglasses to wear after your eye exam is complete, as daylight or other bright lights may be uncomfortable or cause blurred vision. Also, consider having someone else drive you home.
An eye exam usually involves these steps:
Part of the examination, such as taking your medical history and the initial eye test, may be performed by a clinical assistant.
Several different tests may be performed during the eye exam. The tests are designed to check your vision and to examine the appearance and function of all parts of your eyes.
At the end of your eye exam, you and your doctor will discuss the results of all testing, including an assessment of your vision, your risk of eye disease and preventive measures you can take to protect your eyesight.
Normal results from an eye exam include:
Your doctor may give you a prescription for corrective lenses. If your eye exam yields other abnormal results, your doctor will discuss with you next steps for further testing or for treating an underlying condition.
Vision screenings are not comprehensive eye exams. Screenings usually take only a few minutes and are often performed by volunteers who are not eye care professionals.
In many cases, vision screenings are nothing more than a visual acuity test where you’re asked to identify the smallest letters you can on a vision chart across the room.
Vision screenings typically are designed to only detect subnormal visual acuity and major vision problems — as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. They generally are ineffective for detecting more subtle vision problems and potentially sight-robbing eye diseases.
People who fail a vision screening (usually because their visual acuity is worse than 20/40) are made aware of this and are encouraged to visit an eye doctor so they can have their vision problem professionally diagnosed and treated with eyeglasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery.
Good vision is essential for children to reach their full academic potential. It’s been widely stated that roughly 80 percent of what children learn in school is presented visually, and vision problems can have a profound effect on learning.
According to the American Optometric Association, an estimated 20 percent of preschool children have vision problems. Other research shows that 24 percent of adolescents with correctable refractive errors (nearsightedness, farsightedness and/or astigmatism) don’t have their vision fully corrected with up-to-date prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses.
Even if your child passes a school vision screening, it doesn’t guarantee he or she has perfect vision or has all the required visual skills needed for optimum performance in the classroom.
In fact, a number of studies have identified significant challenges and shortcomings of children’s vision screenings, including:
On the other end of the age spectrum, many older Americans often forgo routine eye exams and falsely believe that free vision screenings offer adequate monitoring and protection of their eyesight.
This is extremely dangerous, since the most common causes of blindness — glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration — increase with age. Vision loss often can be prevented or reduced if these conditions are diagnosed and treated early. But the only way this can be done is to have routine comprehensive eye exams.
Don’t take chances with your eyesight as you get older. It may be sufficient to have a comprehensive eye exam every two years in your early adult life. But if you’re over age 60, have an annual eye exam to preserve your vision and make sure you are seeing the world as clearly as possible.