Many people believe that the only reason to get an eye exam is if their vision seems a bit blurry, to get new glasses or contact lenses, or if they have some other noticeable problem or injury with their eyes. And while all of those are great reasons to get an eye exam, the best reason is because regular eye exams can help prevent and improve treatment for severe eye diseases like Keratoconus, Cataracts, Glaucoma, Macular Degeneration, or Myopia or general health issues like Diabetes.
Each of these major diseases starts out as a minor condition that is detectable with regular eye exams, and these conditions (when detected early) give you — the patient — the most options for treatment and the greatest opportunity to preserve or improve your vision.
How Can Regular Eye Exams Detect Keratoconus Early?
Keratoconus is a corneal disease that causes a normally smooth and symmetrical cornea to become cone-shaped or bumpy. Dr. Barry Leonard is a Keratoconus Specialist, and so we have in our treatment rooms the most advanced instruments for detecting Keratoconus. These instruments, including the Eaglet Eye Profiler and others, can actually measure the curvature of your cornea down to the micron. When these tests are run during your regular, annual eye exams, we can detect changes to your cornea over long periods of time.
When caught early, Keratoconus can be treated with Corneal cross-linking, a non-invasive procedure that strengthens the cornea and prevents your Keratoconus from getting worse. Then, great vision can be restored using conventional soft contact lenses or Scleral Contact Lenses. If your Keratoconus is not detected early and is allowed to progress, your vision could get much worse, limiting your treatment options, and potentially requiring surgery.
Learn more about how we detect and treat Keratoconus in our free ebook, “Seeing Clearly with Keratoconus”.
How Can Regular Eye Exams Detect Cataracts Early
Many people don’t know that Cataracts are the number one cause of impaired vision in the world. The good news is that it’s fixable if caught early. So what are Cataracts? The lens inside the eye allows light to pass through so that we can see the world around us. Cataracts is the diagnosis for when the lens becomes cloudy, denser or darker, so that your vision becomes much like looking through a frosted glass shower door. But because Cataracts sometimes progress very, very slowly, it often is undetectable by the patient.
The good news is that Cataracts are detectable by your Optometrist with regular eye exams. We use instruments such as a Slit Lamp Bio Microscope to look at your lens, and the Marco OPD that allows us to actually see the cloudiness in the lens.
Cataract progression can’t yet be stopped, and glasses can’t be used to fix Cataracts. But as with Glaucoma (below), by the time significant impairment of sight has occurred, many treatments will prove ineffective and in some cases reversing the progression of cataracts may prove impossible.
Cataracts can only be effectively treated with surgery, and without surgery, patients with Cataracts will continue losing sight.
Regular eye exams can detect cataracts when they first develop and before they begin to cause impaired vision. This means surgery can be performed before the patient experiences any impairment of life. The surgery is also relatively inexpensive and quick (outpatient), especially if detected early.
How Can Regular Eye Exams Detect Glaucoma Early?
Glaucoma is often called “the silent thief of vision” because its early effects do not impair vision. Once it does have an effect on vision, irreversible nerve damage has already occurred, which can lead to severe vision loss and blindness. However, when caught early enough by regular eye exams, changes in diet, decreased exposure to UV light, and prescription eye drops can be used as effective treatments.
Like with other eye tests, when we test for Glaucoma on an annual basis, we can look for changes over time. During your regular eye exam, we do three tests for Glaucoma.
- Eye Pressure Test — The one thing that most people dread when visiting an eye doctor is a Glaucoma eye pressure test because it requires a puff of air to be blown onto the eye. We have replaced that test with the No-Puff Glaucoma test, which gives better results without the puff.
- Optic Nerve Exam — We examine the structure of the Optic Nerve by looking directly into the eye with the Optos and OCT instruments
- Optic Nerve Function — We check the functions of your optic nerves with a Visual Field Test, which seems more like playing a video game than an eye test.
Catching Glaucoma early is a critical step in preserving your vision, but it’s only possible with regular eye exams.
How Can Regular Eye Exams Detect Macular Degeneration Early?
Macular Degeneration occurs when there is deterioration in the macula, the central area of the retina. This causes objects and images directly in front of a person to appear blurry. Regular eye exams spot degeneration early enough to monitor its progression so that an Optometrist can begin treatments when they will prove most effective.
We test for Macular Degeneration using the Optos and OCT instruments. Taking these tests during your annual eye exam, and then reviewing the tests together with your prior year tests, allows us to detect Macular Degeneration early.
Early treatment means greater treatment options and a better chance of preserving your vision. These treatments often include a change in diet, the use of nutritional supplements, and decreased exposure to UV light. However, in the case of severe degeneration of the macula, laser surgery or medical injections may be required.
You have a greater chance of avoiding these more severe and costly treatments if your Macular Degeneration is detected early.
How Can Regular Eye Exams Detect Myopia Early?
Myopia, or “nearsightedness,” causes distant objects to appear blurry. While Myopia often first develops in school-age children, it can develop later in life. Regular eye exams in children and adults spot the early signs of Myopia so that treatments can be administered early.
If left untreated, Myopia can lead to higher incidences of Retinal Detachment, Cataracts and Glaucoma. Read more about Myopia in our Myopia FAQ.
Regular eye exams can detect structural changes in the eye and functional changes in vision associated with Myopia long before vision is noticeably affected.
Unlike other severe eye diseases, there are many treatments available for Myopia:
- MiSight Contact Lenses permanently slow the progression of Myopia in children when used daily for several years.
- Atropine Eye Drops can slow the progression of Myopia and reduce eye muscle fatigue caused by Myopia.
- Prescription Glasses for Myopia-related vision correction are not widely available but effectively improve vision when worn as prescribed.
- NaturalVue® Contact Lenses correct vision and slow the progression of Myopia.
- Orthokeratology (Ortho-K) Contact Lenses are used nightly to temporarily slow or halt the progression of Myopia.
All of these treatments are most effective when administered early, which is why regular eye exams are so important.
How Can Regular Eye Exams Detect Diabetes Early?
Your eyes are the only place on the body where blood vessels can be seen clearly without invasive treatment. As diabetes develops, blood vessels in the body begin to swell (diabetic retinopathy), which is most noticeable in the eyes.
During a regular eye exam, we take photographs of your retina through our high powered microscope. We then compare those images year over year to look for and detect changes, leakages, swelling and even nerve damage.
Diabetes is a whole-body disease that can cause a very long list of problems, including heart disease, circulatory issues, and even the amputation of limbs.
When caught early through your annual eye exams, simple Diabetes can be easily treated with inexpensive or free choices, including changing your diet and increasing exercise. Moderate Diabetes can be treated with medications, diet and exercise, and severe Diabetes can be treated with all of the above, plus insulin shots.
Detecting diabetes early with regular annual eye exams can literally save your life.
How Do I Schedule Regular Eye Exams?
Eye exams are painless, and in some ways more like playing a video game than getting a medical exam. Plus, they can preserve your good vision, improve your poor vision, and potentially even save your life. The best way to schedule your regular eye exams is this: Make an eye exam appointment now. Then, while you are at our office, make your appointment for next year’s eye exam, too. Add it to your smartphone’s calendar while you are in the office, and let your family and friends know that you’ve taken an important step in preserving and improving your health and quality of life. With their support, it’s easier and more likely you will return next year for your regular eye exam. Then, recommend that they do the same.