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Five Important Reasons to Have an Eye Exam

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This article discusses the benefits of a regular eye examination, including diseases and conditions which can be detected during the exam.

Our vision is something that is all too often taken for granted.  It's kind of like breathing in that regard...we awake in the morning expecting to be able to see, breathe, and go about our day; as long as we can see, we don't even think about it.  Therefore, scheduling a regular eye examination may not be a priority, or we put it off until later.  However, even if you are asymptomatic (you have no symptoms of eye disease), or have no decline in or loss of vision, there are plenty of reasons to act now and schedule that appointment.  Here are the top five conditions or diseases that can exist without you having any warning signs whatsoever (or that you may just attribute to something else), but which can be detected during a thorough eye examination.

1.  High Blood Pressure (Hypertension).  That's right.  By looking at the veins and arteries in the retina, an Optometrist or Ophthalmologist can accurately diagnose hypertension (HTN).  I have assisted the doctor with patients who had absolutely no idea they had HTN, and who were at high risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke.  One patient in particular was referred immediately to a vascular specialist, and upon examination, it was discovered she had already suffered some minor strokes (TIA's) that the patient thought were just headaches.  She had surgery just in time to clear a blockage which, without intervention, could have lead to a life-threatening stroke.

2.  Tumours.   As rare as it may be to have a tumour growing somewhere in or around the eye region, including in the brain -- it still happens.  I have seen two people, and know of a third, who came in for their regular eye exams and had no idea that they were walking around, each with a tumour growing inside his/her head.  The situation I remember most was when I was administering the visual field test -- an interactive test that requires the patient to respond --  to a 12 year old boy. I noticed he would click on the indicator button each time the pattern appeared in his visual field, but his response was always delayed. In someone that young, if you reviewed the test print-out, you may think he just didn't understand the procedure. But I mentioned my observation to the Optometrist, and as it turned out (after sending him to a neurologist), he had tumours growing in the part of his brain connected to vision and motor skills.  Had this otherwise healthy, active, normal boy not had his eyes tested, these tumours could have gone undetected until it was too late.

3.  Elevated Eye Pressure (Intraocular Pressure).  When you go for an eye exam, you will have your eye pressure (IOP) measured.  There are two common methods to do this: Non-contact tonometry--often called the "air puff", and aplanation tonometry, where your eye is numbed with drops and an instrument is placed directly on the cornea to measure the pressure of the internal chamber.  When a person has high IOP, it can lead to damage of the optic nerve and retina, a condition called glaucoma, and eventually cause blindness.  There are different types of glaucoma; primary open-angle, primary angle-closure, secondary, and congenital.  In rare cases, people with normal IOP can develop glaucoma, although the reasons are unclear.  Primary open-angle glaucoma is by far the most common, usually occurring in adults over 40 years of age (but can effect people of any age), and is the second leading cause of blindness in Canada and USA.  In the early to mid-point stages, this type of glaucoma develops slowly and the patient may not exhibit any symptoms at all (or may start to notice minor diminished peripheral vision as the disease progresses).  There are effective treatments for glaucoma (special eye drops or surgery), but these are most efficacious if begun at the early stages of the disease.  There really is too much information to cover in this article, but I would encourage you to read up on this insidious disease, often termed "the thief in the night".  (I've included some links at the end of my article.) 

4.  Macular Degeneration.  The macula is the region of your retina responsible for central vision, colour vision, and vision in highly illuminated conditions.  (The peripheral area of the retina allows us to see movement, to see in low light, and gives us our peripheral (side) vision.)  Because macular degeneration usually occurs in people 55 years or older, it is commonly termed Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD).  It is not usual for young people to develop macular degeneration, although I personally have seen two patients in their early twenties with this condition.  Regardless of your age, your Optometrist will look at your macula and entire retina which can reveal any early signs of the disease.  AMD  causes the central vision to be lost and, once lost, cannot be regained.   It is "the leading cause of blindness in the population aged over 55 years.  The risk of developing some form of AMD increases with age and by age 75, the risk approaches 40%"."  (Stein, Stein, & Freeman; pg. 411, A Text for Allied and Associated Ophthalmic Personnel, Elseveir Mosby, 2006).    Again, early detection is key to retarding the progression of this disease, and being aware of the risk factors  will help you to prevent or delay its onset.

5.  Disorders Causing Refractive Errors.  This includes myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), astigmatism, presbyopia, and strabismus (eyes not able to function in proper alignment with each other)    As strange as it may sound, there are many people who think their vision is perfect, or at least they claim they "can see just fine", but when tested, are required (by law if they are going to drive) to have corrective lenses.  "How can this be?" and "Wouln't I know if I needed glasses?" are very frequent questions asked.  The answer to these two questions is rather simple.  Normal decline in vision (normal meaning not occurring due to disease) happens for the most part very gradually, such that the person gets used to the change without even realizing there has been a change; it is his or her "normal".  Patients are often shocked when they can't read the bottom three or more lines of the eye chart.  This can be especially true in young children, as they may develop problems before they are able to articulate it to a parent.  Sometimes only one eye is problematic (amblyopia), and the other eye "takes over", thereby masking the fact that you may have reduced vision in that eye.  Suffice it say, just because you don't think you need your eyes tested, doesn't mean you shouldn't.

Consider for a moment how your eyes allow you to do so many things: to enjoy the beauties around you, to see joy on a loved one's face, to function and work and play...  We only have one set of eyes.  Don't delay in seeing a professional for the examination that could improve or save your vision, or even your life.

I've included links for some very excellent sources for more information; or, visit your local library.

http://www.opto.ca/

http://www.cnib.ca/

http://www.aoa.org/

11 comments

Sharla Smith
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Posted on Jul 15, 2011
john doe
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Posted on Jul 15, 2011
Sharla Smith
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Posted on Jun 22, 2011
Guest
Posted on Jun 22, 2011
Guest
Posted on Jul 13, 2010
Sharla Smith
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Posted on Mar 25, 2010
Kate West
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Posted on Mar 25, 2010
Sharla Smith
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Posted on Mar 25, 2010
Dr. Johnson C Philip
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Sharla Smith
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Posted on Mar 24, 2010
Val Mills
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Posted on Mar 24, 2010

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Sharla Smith

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