When to Get an Eye Exam and What to Expect

August is National Eye Exam Month. If it’s been too long since you or your family members have scheduled a vision exam with your ophthalmologist, now is a great time to get back on track!

When to get an eye exam

Routine eye exams are important. They check for early signs of serious eye conditions before they become severe, and they can also reveal other health issues like diabetes or hypertension.

Formal eye exams should begin at age 5 or 6, before your child enters first grade. If there are no symptoms or family history of vision issues, eye exams can continue every 1-2 years until adulthood.

For adults who have no symptoms or family history of vision problems, eye exams are recommended as follows:

  • Age 18-39 – Every 5-10 years
  • Age 40-52 – Every 2-4 years
  • Age 55-64 – Every 1-3 years
  • Over age 65 – Every year

Children and adults with vision problems should have regular eye exams on a schedule that is determined by their eye doctor.

Changes in vision that require an eye exam

If you experience the following changes in your vision, you should make an appointment with your doctor:

  • Difficulty reading – The lenses in our eyes become less flexible as we get older, and it becomes harder for our eyes to focus on things, especially tiny fonts.
  • Needing brighter light – Rooms may start to seem too dim. This is also due to the eye lens becoming less flexible over time.
  • Trouble seeing while driving at night – A brighter, more blurry glare from headlights at night is the result of light entering the eye and being scattered rather than focused precisely on the retina.
  • Fluctuating vision – Frequent fluctuations in how clearly you can see could be an indicator of diabetes or hypertension.
  • Seeing floaters or flashes of light – It’s normal to see “floaters,” or shadowy images of the particles that float in your eyes, from time to time. But if you notice an increase in them, or see bright flashes of light, go to the doctor immediately as this could be a retinal tear or detachment.
  • Double vision – Double vision, or seeing “ghost images,” can be a sign of a serious medical issue like cranial nerve palsies, a brain injury or cataracts.
  • Eye pain or eye injury – Eye pain is not normal. Just like an eye injury, pain in the eye should be treated by a medical professional immediately.
  • Loss of side (peripheral) vision – Losing peripheral or side vision could be a symptom of glaucoma.
  • Distorted vision – Straight lines that look wavy or an empty area in the center of your vision could be signs of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss.

What to expect at your eye exam

A routine vision exam usually includes these steps:

  • Eye muscle test – As your eyes follow a pen or small light, your doctor will look for signs of poor eye control and coordination or muscle weakness.
  • Visual acuity test – You’ll be asked to read letters off of a Snellen chart at different distances in order to see if you need glasses to improve your vision.
  • Retinal exam – To measure your eye pressure, as well as make it easy for your doctor to examine the front and inside of your eyes, you’ll be given numbing drops that dilate your pupils.
  • Several different tests may be performed – Depending on your symptoms, age or family history, your eye doctor may want to perform additional screenings for conditions such as glaucoma, color deficiency or cell damage.

Are you looking for a new ophthalmologist in San Diego County? Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups has the most advanced eye health specialists in the region.

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