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All About Vision

Causes of Diabetic Retinopathy

What are the causes of diabetic retinopathy and long-term diabetes? Changes in blood-sugar levels is the main culprit. People suffering from diabetes generally develop diabetic retinopathy after at least ten years of having the disease. Once you are diagnosed with diabetes, it is essential to have an eye exam once a year or more.

In the early stage of diabetic retinopathy, called background or non-proliferative retinopathy, high blood sugar in the retina damages blood vessels, which bleed or leak fluid. This leaking or bleeding causes swelling in the retina, which forms deposits.

In the later stage of diabetic retinopathy, called proliferative retinopathy, new blood vessels begin to grow on the retinal. These new blood vessels may break, causing bleeding into the vitreous, which is the clear gelatinous matter that fills the inside of the eye. This breakage can cause serious vision difficulties. This form of diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness, and is therefore the more serious form of the disease.

It is not hard to greatly reduce your risk of diabetic retinopathy by following some simple steps and being aware of your overall health. The most important factor you can control is maintaining your blood sugar at a healthy level. Eating a healthy diet will help greatly in controlling blood sugar levels. A regular exercise regimen is also a great help. Finally, make sure to listen to your doctor’s instructions.

CMV Retinitis

CMV or cytomegalovirus retinitis is a vision threatening virus that causes inflammation of the retina, primarily in individuals with a compromised immune system, such as those with AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

Symptoms of CMV Retinitis

Symptoms of CMV retinitis often appear relatively suddenly. They include general blurriness, seeing flashes or floaters, sudden loss of peripheral (side) vision, or blind spots in central vision. These symptoms all appear as the virus attacks the retina, the light-sensitive layer of nerves at the back of the eye. If left untreated, the virus can cause retinal detachment and will eventually destroy the retina and damage the optic nerve, causing permanent vision loss. Usually there is no pain felt as the retinal damage is taking place. Symptoms usually start in one eye and but can spread to the other eye as well.

Causes of CMV Retinitis

Cytomegalovirus is a herpes type virus that is actually present in most adults. However, most healthy adults never experience any symptoms or problems from the virus. Individuals with a weakened immune system however, such as those with AIDS, chemotherapy or leukemia patients, newborns or the elderly are at greater risk of the virus being activated and spreading throughout the body, including the retina.

Treatment for CMV Retinitis

Treatment includes antiviral medications such as ganciclovir, foscarnet or cidofovir, which can be administered orally, via injection through a vein or directly into the eye or through a time-release implant the releases the medication at intervals. Laser surgery to improve the damaged area of the retina, such as in a retinal detachment, may also be prescribed.

Immune strengthening is also a critical part of preventing and treating CMV retinitis. Individuals with HIV or AIDS may be put on a regimen of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to boost the immune system and fight the virus. This has been shown to be highly effective in reducing the incidence of CMV retinitis in AIDS patients and reducing the damage for those that are affected.

While these treatments can stop further damage to the retina, any vision that is lost cannot be restored. Further, even if the virus is temporarily stopped, further progression may occur in the future. This is why it is critical to see a retinal specialist on a regular basis if you have had the condition or you are at risk.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is an eye condition characterized by an inflammation of the eyelids which causes redness, itching and irritation. The common eye condition is caused by either a skin disorder or a bacterial infection. Blepharitis is generally not contagious and can affect patients of any age. While it can be very uncomfortable, it usually does not pose any danger to your vision.

There are two types of blepharitis: anterior and posterior.

Anterior blepharitis occurs on the front of your eyelids in the area where the eyelashes attach to the lid. This form is less common and is usually caused by a bacterial infection or seborrheic dermatitis, which is a skin disorder (dandruff) that causes flaking and itching of the skin on the scalp and eyebrows. While it is more rare, allergies or mites on the eyelashes can also lead to this condition.

Posterior blepharitis occurs on the inner eyelid that is closer to the actual eyeball. This more common form is often caused by rosacea, dandruff or meibomian gland problems which affect the production of oil in your eyelids.

Symptoms of Blepharitis

Blepharitis can vary greatly in severity and cause a variety of symptoms which include:

  • Red, swollen eyelids
  • Itching
  • Burning or gritty sensation
  • Excessive tearing
  • Dry eyes
  • Crusting on eyelids

If left untreated, symptoms can become more severe such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Infections and styes
  • Loss of eyelashes or crooked eyelashes
  • Eye inflammation or erosion, particularly the cornea
  • Dilated capillaries
  • Irregular eyelid margin

Treatment for Blepharitis

Treatment for blepharitis depends on the cause of the condition but a very important aspect is keeping the eyelids clean. Warm compresses are usually recommended to soak the lids and loosen any crust to be washed away. It is recommended to use a gentle cleaner (baby soap or an over the counter lid-cleansing agent) to clean the area.

For bacterial infections, antibiotic drops or ointments may be prescribed, and in serious cases steroidal treatment (usually drops) may be used.

Blepharitis is typically a recurring condition so here are some tips for dealing with flare-ups:

  • Use an anti-dandruff shampoo when washing your hair
  • Massage the eyelids to release the oil from the meibomian glands
  • Use artificial tears to moisten eyes when they feel dry
  • Consider breaking from use of contact lenses during the time of the flare-up and or switching to daily disposable lenses.

The most important way to increase your comfort with blepharitis is by keeping good eyelid hygiene. Speak to your doctor about products that he or she recommends.

Astigmatism

Many people have never heard of astigmatism, although it is an extremely common eye condition.

Astigmatism is one type of refractive error. Nearsightedness and farsightedness are other types of refractive error. Refractive errors are not eye diseases. Refractive error is a result of and imperfection of the size and shape of the eye, which results in blurry or double vision.

If left untreated, astigmatism may cause eyestrain, headaches, and blurry vision. If you have astigmatism you may not see objects in the distance or near without some form of distortion.

Symptoms of Astigmatism

Small amounts of astigmatism can go unnoticed, however, you may be suffering from eye fatigue, eyestrain, and headaches.

Astigmatism is a condition that usually can develops early in childhood. According to a study from The Ohio State University School of Optometry, 28% of school age children suffer from astigmatism. Parents should be aware that their children might not notice that their vision is blurry, not understanding that this is not normal. Nevertheless, astigmatism should be treated because vision problems can lead to learning problems and in extracurricular activities. Make sure to have your child’s eyes examined at an eye doctor’s office at least once a year.

Causes of Astigmatism

Astigmatism is generally caused by a cornea with an irregular shape. The cornea is the front, clear layer of the eye. With astigmatism, the cornea is not round and spherical and is instead irregular having two curves instead of one curve. Astigmatism in some cases could also be caused by the lens located inside the eye that is irregular in shape.

Eyes with astigmatism distort the light that comes into the eyes because the cornea is irregularly shaped. This causes the light rays entering the eye to create two images in the back of the eye (because of the two curves), instead of one image. This is what causes the distortion in sight.

Treatments for Astigmatism

For most people, their astigmatism is fully corrected using prescription glasses or contact lenses. If you select contact lenses to correct your vision, soft contact lenses are the most common option. If for whatever reason soft contact lenses are not an option, rigid gas permeable (RGP or GP) are also a great choice. Rigid gas permeable lenses usually give the clearest vision but the adaptation process will be significantly longer. Another option are hybrid contact lenses. These contacts have a center made from a rigid gas permeable (RGP) lens and an outer ring made of soft contact lens material. This type of lens provides both excellent clarity and comfort. LASIK could be another option to correct astigmatism. LASIK usually only corrects low levels of astigmatism and some patients with higher levels of astigmatism might not be candidates.

Amblyopia (Lazy Eye)

Amblyopia, which is also called “lazy eye”, is a disorder that affects the visual development in children. Amblyopia is difficult to correct just with the use of contact lenses, or eyeglasses. Ambylopia can cause vision loss if it is not treated early and properly. This vision disorder affects 2-3% of the population.

What are the symptoms of Amblyopia?

Usually children that are born with amblyopia, the symptoms start in early childhood. Some signs of amblyopia in children are squinting, closing one eye in order to see better, poor general vision, headaches, and eyestrain. Usually caretakers such as parents, caregivers, doctors, or nurses notice these symptoms and recommend the child for treatment.

What are the causes of Amblyopia?

Strabismus is usually the cause of amblyopia. Strabismus is the eyes aligning incorrectly. Amblyopia can also be caused when there is a large difference between the eyes in refractive errors (prescription much higher in one eye than the other). For example, one eye is nearsighted, while the other is farsighted. If amblyopia is not treated, the brain will learn to disregard the vision in the eye with amblyopia. The eye that is disregarded does not grow with clear image and vision loss can be permanent. This is why it is very important to get early treatment and take your child to see your eye doctor if any signs are apparent.

How is Amblyopia treated?

There are several treatments for amblyopia, depending on the cause. Often children are treated using vision therapy, which usually includes a patch on the better eye. Other treatments are atropine eye drops, correct prescription eyeglasses, or surgery.

Vision Therapy

Vision therapy consists of eye exercises, which aim to teach the eyes to work together. In cases of amblyopia, the exercises require the brain to recognize the affected eye, which restores vision in that eye. Some doctors place a patch over the more functional eye, which forces the less functional eye to work harder and become stronger. The patch is generally worn for a few hours a day. Depending on the severity of the condition, treatment can last for weeks or months. Some children refuse to wear a patch, in those cases, a prosthetic contact lens is available. These contact lenses look like the regular eye, and are designed to block vision in that eye.

Atropine drops

Some doctors use atropine eye drops to treat amblyopia. These drops blur vision in the child’s better eye, forcing the weaker eye to work harder and get stronger. In the morning, one drop is instilled under eye doctor’s instructions. The advantage to this method of treatment is that the patch is avoided.

Prescription eyeglasses

If your child has developed amblyopia because of uncorrected vision, sometimes all that is needed is a pair of eyeglasses. When there is strong uncorrected prescription, or when there is a large difference in prescription between the two eyes, sometimes amblyopia can result. Your eye doctor may recommend eye patch therapy in addition to corrective lenses.

Surgery

Strabismus surgery is usually required if the amblyopia is due to a large eye turn. This type of surgery aligns the eyes and corrects the problem within the eye muscles. After the surgery the eyes will able to focus better. Additional vision therapy may be required after strabismus surgery.

Amblyopia must be treated as early as possible as there is no chance that it will resolve by itself. Untreated amblyopia can lead to permanent vision loss in that eye and reduced depth perception. Amblyopia needs to be treated promptly so that your child can have the best vision possible in childhood and later in life. When amblyopia is diagnosed and treated before age 9, the weaker eye can often develop significantly better vision. The most critical time to treat amblyopia is from 3 to 6 years of age. If you or anyone sees any signs of amblyopia, go to your eye doctor to find the best treatment for your child.

Cataracts

Cataracts are one of the leading causes of vision loss in people over 45. A condition that commonly develops as the eye ages, by the time we reach 80, more than half of us will have developed a cataract.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in your eye which is normally transparent. The lens, located inside the eye, behind the iris and the pupil, focuses light onto the retina at the back of your eye, where it is converted to nerve signals that are passed to the brain, allowing you to see. When your lens becomes cloudy, the images projected onto your retina become blurry and unfocused and therefore the signal to the brain is also unclear. You can compare this to looking through a dirty or cloudy window. If the window is not clear, you can’t see well.

Usually cataracts develop slowly over time so your vision gradually worsens. While the majority of cataracts are a result of the aging process, there are also congenital cataracts that are present at birth, secondary cataracts that result from eye surgery or diseases such as glaucoma or diabetes and traumatic cataracts that result at any age from an injury to the eye.

While you may be able to live with mild or moderate cataracts, severe cataracts are treated with surgery. The procedure involves removing the clouded lens and replacing it with an intraocular lens (IOL) implant. Cataract surgery is a common procedure that has a very high success rate of restoring vision to patients. Modern cataract surgery is frequently done as an outpatient procedure. Patients will have greatly improved vision the next day, and will continue to improve over the next few weeks. Surgery is often done in one eye first, and surgery on the second eye, if needed, may be done 2 weeks later.

Learn more about the specifics of Cataracts on the links below:

    Eye Exams for Children

    According to experts, 80% of learning is visual, which means that if your child is having difficulty seeing clearly, his or her learning can be affected. This also goes for infants who develop and learn about the world around them through their sense of sight. To ensure that your children have the visual resources they need to grow and develop normally, their eyes and vision should be checked by an eye doctor at certain stages of their development.

    According to the American Optometric Association (AOA) children should have their eyes examined by an eye doctor at 6 months, 3 years, at the start of school, and then at least every 2 years following. If there are any signs that there may be a vision problem or if the child has certain risk factors (such as developmental delays, premature birth, crossed or lazy eyes, family history or previous injuries) more frequent exams are recommended. A child that wears eyeglasses or contact lenses should have his or her eyes examined yearly. Children’s eyes can change rapidly as they grow.

    Eye Exams in Infants: Birth – 24 Months

    A baby’s visual system develops gradually over the first few months of life. They have to learn to focus and move their eyes, and use them together as a team. The brain also needs to learn how to process the visual information from the eyes to understand and interact with the world. With the development of eyesight, comes also the foundation for motor development such as crawling, walking and hand-eye coordination.

    You can ensure that your baby is reaching milestones by keeping an eye on what is happening with your infant’s development and by ensuring that you schedule a comprehensive infant eye exam at 6 months. At this exam, the eye doctor will check that the child is seeing properly and developing on track and look for conditions that could impair eye health or vision (such as strabismus(misalignment or crossing of the eyes), farsightedness, nearsightedness, or astigmatism).

    Since there is a higher risk of eye and vision problems if your infant was born premature or is showing signs of developmental delay, your eye doctor may require more frequent visits to keep watch on his or her progress.

    Eye Exams in Preschool Children: 2-5

    The toddler and preschool age is a period where children experience drastic growth in intellectual and motor skills. During this time they will develop the fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and perceptual abilities that will prepare them to read and write, play sports and participate in creative activities such as drawing, sculpting or building. This is all dependent upon good vision and visual processes.

    This is the age when parents should be on the lookout for signs of lazy eye (amblyopia) – when one eye doesn’t see clearly, or crossed eyes (strabismus) – when one or both eyes turns inward or outward. The earlier these conditions are treated, the higher the success rate.

    Parents should also be aware of any developmental delays having to do with object, number or letter recognition, color recognition or coordination, as the root of such problems can often be visual. If you notice your child squinting, rubbing his eyes frequently, sitting very close to the tv or reading material, or generally avoiding activities such as puzzles or coloring, it is worth a trip to the eye doctor.

    Eye Exams in School-Aged Children: Ages 6-18

    Undetected or uncorrected vision problems can cause children and teens to suffer academically, socially, athletically and personally. If your child is having trouble in school or afterschool activities there could be an underlying vision problem. Proper learning, motor development, reading, and many other skills are dependent upon not only good vision, but also the ability of your eyes to work together. Children that have problems with focusing, reading, teaming their eyes or hand-eye coordination will often experience frustration, and may exhibit behavioral problems as well. Often they don’t know that the vision they are experiencing is abnormal, so they aren’t able to express that they need help.

    In addition to the symptoms written above, signs of vision problems in older children include:

    • Short attention span
    • Headaches
    • Frequent blinking
    • Avoiding reading
    • Tilting the head to one side
    • Losing their place often while reading
    • Double vision
    • Poor reading comprehension

    The Eye Exam

    In addition to basic visual acuity (distance and near vision) an eye exam may assess the following visual skills that are required for learning and mobility:

    • Binocular vision: how the eyes work together as a team
    • Focusing
    • Peripheral Vision
    • Color Vision
    • Hand-eye Coordination
    • Tracking

    The doctor will also examine the area around the eye and inside the eye to check for any eye diseases or health conditions. You should tell the doctor any relevant personal history of your child such as a premature birth, developmental delays, family history of eye problems, eye injuries or medications the child is taking. This would also be the time to address any concerns or issues your child has that might indicate a vision problem.

    If the eye doctor does determine that your child has a vision problem, they may discuss a number of therapeutic options such as eyeglasses or contact lenses, an eye patch, vision therapy or Ortho-k, depending on the condition and the doctor’s specialty. Since some conditions are much easier to treat when they are caught early while the eyes are still developing, it is important to diagnose any eye and vision issues as early as possible.

    Following the guidelines for children’s eye exams and staying alert to any signs of vision problems can help your child to reach his or her potential.

    Eye Exams for Contact Lenses

    Contact lenses are a great alternative to wearing eyeglasses. An often unknown fact is that not all patients wear contact lenses as their primary source of vision correction. Each patient is different, with some patients wearing contact lenses only on weekends, special occasions or just for sports. That is the beauty of contact lens wear, the flexibility it gives each individual patient and their lifestyle.

    If you decide to opt for contact lens wear, it is very important that the lenses fit properly and comfortably and that you understand contact lens safety and hygiene. A contact lens exam will include both a comprehensive eye exam to check your overall eye health, your general vision prescription and then a contact lens consultation and measurement to determine the proper lens fit.

    The Importance of a Comprehensive Eye Exam

    Whether or not you have vision problems, it is important to have your eyes checked regularly to ensure they are healthy and that there are no signs of a developing eye condition. A comprehensive eye exam will check the general health of your eyes as well as the quality of your vision. During this exam the eye doctor will determine your prescription for eyeglasses, however this prescription alone is not sufficient for contact lenses. The doctor may also check for any eye health issues that could interfere with the comfort and success of contact lens wear.

    The Contact Lens Consultation

    The contact lens industry is always developing new innovations to make contacts more comfortable, convenient and accessible. Therefore, one of the initial steps in a contact lens consultation is to discuss with your eye doctor some lifestyle and health considerations that could impact the type of contacts that suit you best.

    Some of the options to consider are whether you would prefer daily disposables or monthly disposable lenses, as well as soft versus rigid gas permeable (GP) lenses. If you have any particular eye conditions, such as astigmatism or dry eye syndrome, your eye doctor might have specific recommendations for the right type or brand for your optimal comfort and vision needs.

    Now is the time to tell your eye doctor if you would like to consider colored contact lenses as well. If you are over 40 and experience problems seeing small print, for which you need bifocals to see close objects, your eye doctor may recommend multifocal lenses or a combination of multifocal and monovision lenses to correct your unique vision needs.

    Contact Lens Fitting

    One size does not fit all when it comes to contact lenses. Your eye doctor will need to take some measurements to properly fit your contact lenses. Contact lenses that do not fit properly could cause discomfort, blurry vision or even damage the eye. Here are some of the measurements your eye doctor will take for a contact lens fitting:

    Corneal Curvature

    In order to assure that the fitting curve of the lens properly fits the curve of your eye, your doctor will measure the curvature of the cornea or front surface of the eye. The curvature is measured with an instrument called a keratometer to determine the appropriate curve for your contact lenses. If you have astigmatism, the curvature of your cornea is not perfectly round and therefore a “toric” lens, which is designed specifically for an eye with astigmatism, would be fit to provide the best vision and lens fit. In certain cases your eye doctor may decide to measure your cornea in greater detail with a mapping of the corneal surface called corneal topography.

    Pupil or Iris Size

    Your eye doctor may measure the size of your pupil or your iris (the colored area of your eye) with an instrument called a biomicroscope or slit lamp or manually with a ruler or card. This measurement is especially important if you are considering specialized lenses such as Gas Permeable (GP) contacts.

    Tear Film Evaluation

    One of the most common problems affecting contact lens wear is dry eyes. If the lenses are not kept adequately hydrated and moist, they will become uncomfortable and your eyes will feel dry, irritated and itchy. Particularly if you have dry eye syndrome, your doctor will want to make sure that you have a sufficient tear film to keep the lenses moist and comfortable, otherwise, contact lenses may not be a suitable vision option.

    A tear film evaluation is performed by the doctor by putting a drop of liquid dye on your eye and then viewing your tears with a slit lamp or by placing a special strip of paper under the lid to absorb the tears to see how much moisture is produced. If your tear film is weak, your eye doctor may recommend certain types of contact lenses that are more successful in maintaining moisture.

    Contact Lens Trial and Prescription

    After deciding which pair of lenses could work best with your eyes, the eye doctor may have you try on a pair of lenses to confirm the fit and comfort before finalizing and ordering your lenses. The doctor or assistant would insert the lenses and keep them in for 15-20 minutes before the doctor exams the fit, movement and tearing in your eye. If after the fitting, the lenses appear to be a good fit, your eye doctor will order the lenses for you. Your eye doctor will also provide care and hygiene instructions including how to insert and remove your lenses, how long to wear them and how to store them if relevant.

    Follow-up

    Your eye doctor may request that you schedule a follow-up appointment to check that your contact lenses are fitting properly and that your eyes are adjusting properly. If you are experiencing discomfort or dryness in your eyes you should visit your eye doctor as soon as possible. Your eye doctor may decide to try a different lens, a different contact lens disinfecting solution or to try an adjustment in your wearing schedule.

    Your Comprehensive Eye Exam

    Your eyes are one of the most complex organs in your body. A comprehensive eye exam to assess your visual system and eye health involves a number of different of tests. Unlike a simple vision screening, which only assesses your vision, a comprehensive eye exam includes a battery of tests in order to do a complete evaluation of the health of your eyes and your vision.

    The tests that you will undergo in a comprehensive eye examination may vary from eye doctor to eye doctor but here are are some common exams that you may encounter:

    Patient Background and History

    One of the most important parts in a comprehensive eye exam is your patient health history. This information will alert your doctor to any conditions that should be monitored closely, such as an allergy to any medications, current or family history of systemic or eye pathology or environmental conditions that could be affecting your vision or eye health. This will also help your doctor to determine any preventative eye care measures that are relevant to keep your eyes healthy for years to come.

    Visual Acuity

    Visual acuity is a measurement of your vision using an eye chart, the Snellen Eye Chart. In this test the patient is seated at a standard distance and is asked to read letters or symbols of various sizes, which get smaller as you move down the chart. The results are the familiar ratio of 20/20, 20/40 etc. which is a comparison of your vision compared to the average person with good vision, which is typically 20/20. For example, a patient that has 20/40 vision, can only see at 20 feet what the normal person can see from a distance of 40 feet. This test is a preliminary test of how clearly you are seeing in each eye but it does not give you a prescription for corrective lenses.

    Refraction

    Those who don’t have 20/20 vision have what is referred to in most cases as a “Refractive Error.” The patient may have nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism or other eye conditions that prevent the patient from seeing 20/20. A refraction will tell the doctor which prescription lenses will correct your eyesight to achieve 20/20 vision or whichever amount your vision is correctable to.

    A refraction may include a couple of steps.

    Retinoscopy

    Retinoscopy is a test that allows the doctor to obtain an approximate prescription for eyeglasses. In this test the doctor uses a hand-held instrument called a retinoscope that shines a light into the patient’s eye. The doctor then analyzes the reflex of the light from the patient’s eye to determine the patient’s prescription for glasses.

    An instrument called a phoropter is something most patients associate with an eye exam. This space age appearing instrument, positioned in front of the patient’s face during the eye exam, gives the doctor the ability to determine the patient’s focusing ability as well as their eye alignment. The phoropter also determines which, out of the hundreds and hundreds of potential eyeglass prescriptions, will help the patient see as clear as possible. Using the phoropter, the doctor will ask the patient which series of lenses makes their vision the clearest.

    While retinoscopy is quite effective for children and nonverbal patients, there are now a number of computerized or automated instruments available today to help doctors accurately determine a patient’s eyeglass prescription.

    Autorefractors and Aberrometers

    Autorefractors and aberrometers are computerized machines that are able to measure your refractive error to determine your prescription for glasses or contact lenses. These instruments are usually used in addition to testing described earlier:

    – An autorefractor is similar to retinoscopy, which electronically analyses the light reflex from the patient’s eye.

    – An aberrometer measures distortions or aberrations in the cornea and lens of the eye that disrupt proper focus of light on the retina. Using wavefront technology, the instrument measures the rays of light as they pass through your eye to look for imperfections which may indicate a refractive error.

    Eye Focusing and Eye Teaming Tests

    During the comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor will also want to test how your eyes function individually and together from a mechanical perspective. In order to see clearly and comfortably, your eyes need to work together as a team.

    Eye Health

    The final and most important aspect of a comprehensive eye exam is a check of your overall eye health. These tests (below) are done to identify any eye conditions or diseases, both inside the eye as well as the external parts of the eye, that could affect your vision and general health.

    Slit Lamp Test

    The slit lamp or biomicroscope is an instrument that allows the doctor to examine the internal and external parts of the eye in detail, such as the conjunctiva, iris, lens, cornea, retina and the optic nerve. The patient rests their forehead and chin on a headrest to stabilize the head, while the doctor looks into the eye with the slit lamp microscope, which is magnified with a high-intensity light. A slit lamp test enables the doctor to evaluate the eyes for signs of normal aging and eye pathology, such as conjunctivitis, cataracts, macular degeneration or retinal detachment. Early diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases are essential for preventing vision loss.

    Tonometry

    Tonometry is a test to detect glaucoma by measuring the pressure inside your eye or IOP (intraocular pressure). Glaucoma can cause vision loss and even blindness if the IOP in the eye is too high and damages the optic nerve.

    The applanation tonometer, typically attached to a slit lamp, is one of the most common instruments used to measure the pressure in the eye. Prior to doing this test the doctor will numb the patient’s eyes using an anesthetic, before gently applanating (putting pressure on) the patient’s cornea to measure the pressure in the eye.

    Pupil Dilation

    During your comprehensive eye exam, your doctor may decide to do a dilated eye exam. In this test, your doctor will instill dilating drops in each eye, which would enlarge your pupils to give the doctor a better view of certain parts of the back of the eye. Dilation is done at the discretion of the doctor, with some patients dilated every year and others at specified intervals; the frequency of dilation will vary for each patient.

    Typically the drops take around 20 to 30 minutes to take effect and may last up to several hours following the exam; each patient is different. Since more light enters your eyes when your pupils are dilated, you will be more sensitive to bright light, especially sunlight. Although your doctor may provide disposable sunglasses, you may want to bring a pair of sunglasses to wear after the exam to make it more comfortable until the drops wear off.

    A comprehensive eye exam is an important part of your overall general health maintenance and should be scheduled on a regular basis. The findings from your comprehensive eye exam can give your doctor important information about your overall health, particularly diabetes and high blood pressure.

    Preparing for an Eye Exam

    For both adults and children, an eye exam is a critical part in maintaining your overall health and well-being, and therefore, regular eye exams should be incorporated into your health routine. Comprehensive eye exams assess your vision and the health of your eye, looking for early signs of disease that may not have obvious symptoms. You should not wait until you experience a vision problem or symptoms of an eye condition to schedule a routine exam.

    Depending on your age, family history, general health and eye health, it is recommended to have an eye exam every one to two years. Of course if you experience any serious symptoms that affect your eyes or your vision, you should contact your eye doctor immediately.

    The Difference Between an Optometrist (OD) and an Ophthalmologist (MD or DO)

    Confusion about the difference between optometrists and ophthalmologists is common, and many people are not aware of how the two eye care professionals differ.

    Optometrists

    Optometrists or Doctors of Optometry attend optometry school which is usually at least four years of graduate level training. They are able to perform eye exams, provide prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses, and diagnose and treat eye diseases as as glaucoma, dry eyes, or eye infections that may require medication or drops. They can consult with and co-manage patients in pre- or post-op surgical care, however they do not perform surgery.

    Ophthalmologists

    Ophthalmologists are medical doctors that attend medical school and later specialize in ophthalmology. They are able to do all of the services mentioned above but also perform eye surgeries such as cataract surgery, refractive surgery such as LASIK and deal with more urgent eye conditions such as retinal detachment.

    Infant and Child Eye Exams

    According to the American Optometric Association (AOA) children should have their eyes examined by an eye doctor at 6 months, 3 years, at the start of school and then at least every 2 years following. If there are any signs that there may be a vision problem or if the child has certain risk factors (such as developmental delays, premature birth, crossed eyes, family history or previous injuries) more frequent exams are recommended. A child that wears eyeglasses or contact lenses should have his or her eyes examined yearly.

    Adult Eye Exams

    Healthy adults under 40 with good vision and who do not wear eyeglasses or contact lenses are recommended to have an eye exam at least every two years. Those that do use vision correction or have a health issue such as diabetes, high blood pressure or another health condition that can have an impact on your eye health should schedule a yearly exam, unless the eye doctor recommends more frequent visits.

    Once you reach 40, you become susceptible to a number of age-related eye conditions such as presbyopia, cataracts or macular degeneration, therefore annual or bi-annual exams are strongly recommended.

    As you continue to age, particularly after age 55, the risks of eye disease increase, and early detection can be critical to preventing significant vision loss or blindness. Scheduling a yearly eye exam can make all the difference in maintaining your independence and quality of life.

    How to Prepare for Your Exam

    Prior to your exam you should decide whether you will be seeking special services such as a contact lens exam or LASIK consultation. These services may cost extra. Check with the doctor’s office or your insurance provider to see if they cover any of the exam expenses.

    You need to know if you have medical insurance, vision plan coverage or both. Medical insurance usually does not cover “wellness/refractive” exams for glasses or contact lenses. Vision plans will cover exams for glasses or contacts, but usually cannot be used for red eyes, floaters, or other medical eye health problems. Please bring your insurance cards with you.

    In addition to bringing your current pair of glasses or contacts if applicable, it is important to be aware of your personal and family history and to have a list of medications or supplements you are currently taking. Your pupils will probably be dilated as apart of your exam, so plan accordingly.

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