Is it really that important to have routine eye exams? What if you just passed a vision screening at work or school — do you still need an eye exam?
Here are a few important differences between vision screenings and eye exams — and why routine eye exams are so important even if you've passed a vision screening.
- Signs You Might Need an Eye Exam
- Vision Screenings Are Not Eye Exams
- Children's Vision Screenings Are Helpful — But Kids Need Eye Exams, Too
- Passing A Vision Screening Doesn't Mean Your Child's Vision Is Perfect
- Older Adults Need More Frequent Eye Exams
Signs You Might Need an Eye Exam
Ideally, one eye exam every year should help you to stay on top of your eye health, but some people might need to schedule more than one exam in a year. Vision can change quite a bit over the course of a year, especially for those over the age of 50, and it is important to know when you need to schedule an exam.
Here are 10 signs that you should get another exam on the calendar soon:
If you no longer recognize a friend 10 steps away, or your favorite magazine has become too fuzzy to read up close, you may be developing farsightedness or nearsightedness. If you find it difficult to see objects both near and far, that may be astigmatism, a common condition involving a curvature of the eye lens or cornea. For mild blurry vision, Pearle Vision recommends resting your eyes and staying hydrated. Yet if the blurry vision persists, schedule an eye exam.
Difficulty seeing at night:
If your night vision is fading so you no longer can see your dog in the yard or driving is becoming more of a concern, you may be experiencing signs of early cataracts, which should be examined as soon as possible.
Troubles adjusting from dark to light:
If it takes your eyes longer to adjust after seeing bright lights on the highway, it likely means the muscles that help your iris contract and expand are weakening. It’s likely due to age, as are many vision problems.
Difficulty at the computer:
You can try to blame it on work, but oftentimes those who struggle to read the computer after a while may be experiencing a clue to farsightedness. Pearle Vision recommends following the 20-20-20 rule: look 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. If problems persist, schedule an eye exam.
Eye strain or fatigue:
Does 20 minutes of reading wear your eyes out like 1 hour did only a year ago? Eye fatigue results from blurry vision or when you regularly squint or blink to bring items into focus, but it also can occur from driving, writing or mobile phone addiction. Try taking regular breaks or change the lighting to reduce glare—and Pearle Vision also recommends drinking at least 8 glasses of water per day to help avoid eye fatigue and strain. But if the fatigue persists, see your eye doctor.
Sometimes the mechanism that helps the cornea and lens focus on images fails, and the small muscles in the eye are forced to work harder. The result is eye strain, which can lead to headaches.7 Put in simple terms: When you squint, it can cause headaches, and you may need glasses.
Drinking jokes aside, double vision can lead to serious issues. Seeing double may indicate problems with your cornea or eye muscles. It can also be a symptom of cataracts. Call the eye doctor on the double.
Do the blinds covering the kitchen window suddenly look like they are under water? When straight lines appear distorted, or colors look faded, it may be a sign of macular degeneration, the deterioration of the central portion of the retina and a leading cause of vision loss.
If you see halos around objects, it may signal developing cataracts or night vision problems. These halos are usually more pronounced in the dark and surround objects.
If you feel pressure behind the eye, it may be a sign of developing glaucoma. No need to panic, though, because it’s highly treatable. Pressure buildup can damage the optic nerve that transmits images to your brain, but not everyone who experiences eye pressure has glaucoma. Still, you should get it checked.
Don't wait until you experience any of these 10 things before you schedule an eye exam. Keep in mind that an eye exam benefits more than just your eyes. Your eye doctor can detect a wide range of diseases like diabetes and cancer just by looking at your eyes.
Get an exam on the calendar, and be sure to ask your eye doctor if you should schedule more than one in a year.
Vision Screenings Are Not Eye Exams
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.
Eye doctor administering an eye exam to a patient.
After a comprehensive exam, your eye doctor will discuss the findings and offer treatment options best suited to your needs.
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.
Eye exams, on the other hand, are performed by licensed eye doctors (an optometrist or ophthalmologist) and evaluate not only your visual acuity, but also the complete health of your eyes, from front to back — including checking for early signs of serious eye problems such as glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and detached retina.
Your eye doctor also can detect early signs of serious health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and risk of stroke, based on the appearance of delicate blood vessels and other structures within the eye.
Children's Vision Screenings Are Helpful — But Kids Need Eye Exams, Too
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.
Little girl with big blue eyes.
Children's eye exams are important to ensure normal vision development.
Also, children are using computers and other digital devices much more extensively and start using these devices at a much younger age than children in the past. The illuminated screens of these modern devices tend to be more visually demanding than books and other printed text.
Increased use of digital devices by children has occurred simultaneously with another significant trend — an unprecedented increase in myopia among children in the U.S. and worldwide. These two trends have led many eye care professionals to believe computers and digital devices play an important role in the development of nearsightedness and myopia progression. This makes it more important than ever for children to have their eyes examined routinely to identify and treat vision problems.
Vision screenings are helpful to identify children who already have significant myopia, but screenings aren't sensitive or thorough enough to identify all children who have vision problems that can affect their learning.
Passing A Vision Screening Doesn't Mean Your Child's Vision Is Perfect
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:
- Children with significant learning-related vision problems being able to pass simple school vision screenings
- Poor consistency of screening results among different volunteers conducting the testing
- Parents being unaware their child failed a vision screening
Lack of follow-up to make sure children who fail screening actually have an eye exam Also, poor standardization of vision screening standards among different states and lack of reporting requirements make it impossible to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of school vision screenings.
UV Risk Assessment Do you know the hidden eye health dangers of daily UV exposure? Find out more Find out which intraocular lens might be right for your visual needs Find out which intraocular lens might be right for your visual needs.
Older Adults Need More Frequent Eye Exams
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.
Though Medicare does not cover routine eye exams, if you have a Medicare supplement policy or other medical or vision insurance, your benefits may include an annual comprehensive eye exam. Check with your insurance provider for details.
FIND A DOCTOR: The first step in preparing for an eye exam is finding a doctor near you.