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Why Do You Need to Get an Eye Exam?

March 20, 2020

When was the last time you had an eye exam? Chances are, you are overdue for your next eye test. You may not realize this, but eye exams are also about a lot more than just your vision. It’s important to make sure that you and your family are getting eye exams at the recommended frequencies, and in this post we’ll explain why.

What Is an Eye Exam?

According to the Mayo Clinic, an eye exam is “a series of tests to evaluate your vision and check for eye diseases.”

Making sure you get regular eye exams can help detect eye problems at the earliest stage possible, when they’re the easiest to treat.

When it comes to children and eye tests, there are some additional important factors to consider. Kids’ eye exams are absolutely critical for school performance, as experts estimate that 80% of all learning occurs visually.

Why Are Eye Exams Important?

What do eye exams check for? A multitude of things. First, your visual acuity is checked when you’re asked to read the letters on the chart. A refraction may be necessary to see if glasses, contact lenses, or refractive surgery could improve your vision. This is the eye exam test that many people are most familiar with, where you’re asked to choose the lens that provides you with the clearest vision.

The alignment of your eyes is checked to ensure proper tracking and focusing. Your eye pressure is measured. The health of your eyes is examined with a microscope, first checking the surface of the eye and then looking at the inner structures, like the retina and optic nerve. This is where signs of several diseases can be seen, like high blood pressure, diabetes, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.

What Are the Types of Eye Exams?

Contrary to popular belief, an eye exam is not the same as a simple vision test that your kids get at school or you get at the DMV to make sure your eyesight isn’t blurry.

Are all eye exams the same? No, certainly not. There are different types of eye exam tests, some more thorough than others. A refraction eye exam simply checks whether glasses, contact lenses, or refractive surgery may improve vision, but doesn’t check the health of the eye, like a comprehensive eye exam.

So, what is a comprehensive eye exam? It’s a thorough check of your vision and ocular health performed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. During an eye exam, your eye doctor will check a wide variety of aspects of your eye health and test for possible underlying diseases. The different parts of a comprehensive eye exam are enumerated in detail later on in this article.

In addition to a comprehensive eye exam, there are other types of exams you may need depending on your age, family history, and general eye health. For example, you may need to get a specific eye exam for contact lenses, or you may need to have your eyes tested for optic nerve damage if you suffer from a condition like glaucoma.

eye exam.

Basic Eye Exam

A basic eye exam may include a check of your vision, refraction, and a cursory look at the health of your eyes. It generally doesn’t include dilation of your pupils.

Comprehensive Eye Exam

A comprehensive eye exam includes the elements of a basic exam but is more thorough in checking the health of the eyes. This generally involves pupillary dilation, which is done using drops instilled into the eyes.

How Often Should You Get an Eye Exam?

Now that you recognize how important it is, you may wonder when to get an eye exam. The recommended frequency of eye exams differs depending on age, risk factors, and if you’re already wearing corrective lenses, but the general rule is that you should have a comprehensive eye exam once every one or two years.

Children 3 Years and Younger

Babies should have their eyes examined between 6 and 12 months of age. A pediatric eye exam can help to uncover developmental issues early.  

School-Age Children and Adolescents

Children should have another eye exam between the ages of 3 and 5, which will help to uncover problems with vision and eye alignment. Another eye exam should take place before they start first grade.

This is a crucial time for learning, and visual deficits can impair children’s ability to thrive in school. After that, it’s recommended to have their eyes checked every year until they’re 18, provided there aren’t any risk factors or corrective lenses involved.

Adults

For adults up to the age of 65, it is recommended to have an eye exam every two years, unless there are certain risk factors like a family history of glaucoma or macular degeneration. In those cases, it’s best to ask an eye care professional to determine how frequently you should get an exam. Typically, they will recommend testing at least yearly. Risk factors for more frequent eye examination include:

  • A personal or family history of eye disease
  • Being of a certain racial and ethnic background
  • Systemic health conditions with potential ocular effects
  • Occupations that are visually demanding or are hazardous to the eyes
  • Taking certain drugs that have ocular side effects
  • Having a functional vision in only one eye
  • Being a contact lens wearer
  • History of previous eye surgery or injury
  • Having high or progressive refractive error
  • Having other eye-related health concerns or conditions

After you turn 65, you should be seeing an eye doctor at least once a year to increase the chances of early detection of glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, and other potential issues.

What Happens at an Eye Exam?

If you’re worried about what’s involved in an eye exam procedure, don’t be. Eye exams are incredibly simple and comfortable, but an eye test involves more than just a basic vision screening. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist will likely check some or all of the following:

  • Visual Acuity: A basic indicator of how well you see letters and symbols from various distances, this is what you likely think of with regards to an eye exam.
  • Your Prescription for Corrective Lenses: If you wear corrective lenses, your doctor will conduct a test to confirm and determine the best prescription for you, if any.
  • Your Pupils: By shining a bright light into your eye, your doctor will check how your pupils react. If your pupils don’t respond correctly, it may indicate a potential underlying issue.
  • Peripheral (Side) Vision Test: A loss of side, or peripheral vision as it’s more commonly known, is one symptom of glaucoma. This test is crucial because you may not even notice an issue with your side vision.
  • Movement Test: Your doctor will check to see if your eyes are aligned and moving correctly.
  • Eye Pressure Test: Your doctor will likely measure the pressure within your eye to check for signs of glaucoma.
  • The Front Part of Your Eye: Your doctor will check for cataracts or any scratches or scars on your cornea.
  • Retina and Optic Nerve: By dilating your pupils with eye drops, your doctor can examine your retina and optic nerve for signs of disease.

It’s important to remember that you should not drive home after a dilated exam, since this type of exam can cause blurry vision and make you exceptionally sensitive to light. Make sure you have a friend or family member drive you home after having your eyes dilated, or take a taxi or Uber. Your eye doctor will likely provide a pair of disposable sunglasses after the procedure, but just in case, make sure to bring sunglasses with good UV protection along with you.

Signs You May Need an Eye Exam

We all have our to-do lists, and “get eye exam” may or may not be on yours; however, there are certain signs that warrant getting your eyes examined sooner than later.  

You Can’t Remember When You Had Your Last Eye Exam

As you saw in the recommendations above, most age groups should be getting their eyes examined at least every few years. If you can’t even remember your last eye exam, or worse, you don’t know if you’ve ever had one, it’s time to make an appointment with the eye doctor.

You Have a High Risk for Eye Diseases

Maybe you have diabetes, or perhaps your sister has glaucoma. A personal or familial history of eye disease warrants having your eyes examined more often. Certain racial or ethnic backgrounds can also predispose you to eye disease. If you’re African American or Latinx, you may want to see an eye doctor more often.

Wearing contact lenses is another reason to get your eyes examined more often. Previous eye surgery or injury may require more frequent monitoring, as does taking certain medications.

Your Vision Is Getting Worse

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Sometimes, your body tells you something that you can’t ignore. If your eyesight seems to be getting worse, that’s a sure sign you should see an eye care professional.

You Have Allergies

Red, itchy, watery eyes may be a sign of ocular allergies. Sometimes, eye allergies manifest without all the other traditional signs, like sneezing and a runny nose. Every individual has their own triggers, which could include anything from pollen to mold to perfume. Regardless, your optometrist or ophthalmologist can prescribe appropriate remedies to alleviate your symptoms.

You’re Having Other Eye Problems

Blurry vision isn’t the only sign you should see an eye doctor. Other visual symptoms such as double vision, floaters, or flashes should also prompt you to make an appointment. Similarly, if you have any eye discharge, redness, or pain, you should have your eyes examined.

How Much Does an Eye Exam Cost?

The cost of an eye exam can vary depending on your insurance and the type of eye exam you need. How much is an eye exam without insurance? A comprehensive eye exam can run between $170-$200 without insurance but can vary. Does Medicare cover eye exams? Typically yes, if they are medically necessary. However, you may be responsible for the vision exam cost, or refraction, which can vary depending on the practice or provider.

Where to Get an Eye Exam?

Healthy eyes and vision are critical to your quality of life. Luckily, eye exams are quick, easy, and painless. So, if you’re overdue, don’t hesitate to book your next appointment. The team of highly-rated doctors at Kraff Eye Institute can conduct your comprehensive eye exam and consult with you if any additional procedures are deemed necessary. To schedule an appointment, call (312) 444-1111 or fill out this consultation form. Depending on the age of your child, our practice may need to refer you to a pediatric ophthalmologist. Please contact us to discuss that with one of our patient care coordinators.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How Long Does an Eye Exam Take?

Plan to be at your doctor’s office for at least an hour for a comprehensive eye exam. There are many steps to the examination, and each of these takes time. You may have some downtime during part of your visit, as the doctor awaits the dilation drops to take into effect. If you are found to need supplementary testing, such as a visual field, for example, additional time may be required. Child exams may require longer appointments. Please discuss that with one of our patient care coordinators.

What Diseases Can Be Detected in An Eye Exam?

An eye exam can detect a multitude of diseases, both in the eyes and elsewhere in the body. Some common eye diseases that eye care professionals look for include cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. Your eye doctor may also identify signs of systemic diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, among many others. .
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Dr. Colman R. Kraff

Committed to advancing new technologies in the field of ophthalmology, Dr. Colman Kraff helped to pioneer laser vision correction. In February of 1991, as part of a five-site, U.S., FDA clinical trial team, Dr. Kraff successfully performed the first excimer laser procedures in the Chicagoland area using the VISX Excimer Laser.

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