College of DuPage Nursing Student Kaitlynn Tagney shared with Healthy Lombard that many people often think to go to the eye doctor when they are having trouble seeing. For instance, suddenly it becomes harder to drive at night, the font on the menu becomes difficult to read, or one finds themself holding items farther away to focus. Unfortunately, what many people fail to realize is that an eye exam is not just about vision, but about the health of the eyes as well. In fact, it might be surprising to hear that the eye is considered a window to the body and an eye examination can reveal a great deal about one’s health.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (2020), a dilated eye examination can detect early diagnosis of many systemic health conditions ranging from diabetes to rheumatoid arthritis and even multiple sclerosis. In fact, when performing an eye examination, a doctor can inspect the blood vessels in the back of your eye (known as the retina) which can reveal a diagnosis of hypertension or even the increased likelihood of a stroke (AAO, 2020). In addition, when examining the anterior segment of the eye (cornea, lens, iris), an eye doctor can diagnose high cholesterol levels, sarcoidosis, and even various sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, herpes, syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea (AAO, 2020).
Besides early diagnosis of many systemic health conditions, seeing an eye doctor is also important in terms of the prevention of ocular disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020), the leading causes of preventable blindness in the United States are age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Unfortunately, most ocular diseases are often symptomless until they are at a much more advanced stage (National Eye Institute, 2019). Currently, a total of 80 million Americans have a potentially blinding eye disease and approximately 93 million adults are at high risk for serious vision loss (CDC, 2020).
Finally, impaired visual acuity, or in other words how clearly one sees, is another reason to see an eye doctor. For some individuals, a noticeable change in vision is more obvious. For others, especially children, it can be difficult to tell if what they see is outside the norm. According to the American Optometry Association, poor vision that remains uncorrected in children can lead to developmental, academic, and social challenges (2020). Additionally, in the United States nearly 8 million adults (age 40 and older) suffer from uncorrected visual acuity and approximately 3 million adults have vision impairment after correction (CDC, 2020).
As you can see (pun intended), eye exams are an essential component of monitoring one’s health and vision. Fortunately, a survey conducted by the American Optometry Association in 2020 concluded that most Americans agreed that their eye health is just as important as the health of their heart. However, half of the participants believed an eye exam was not necessary if their vision was clear. Helen Keller once said, “the thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision” (2021). How can we prioritize our health without prioritizing our vision?
American Academy of Ophthalmology. (2020). 20 Surprising health problems an eye exam
American Optometric Association. (2021). See the full picture of your health with an annual
comprehensive eye exam.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Fast facts of common eye disorders.
Keller, H. (2021). 25 Inspiration Helen Keller quotes.
National Eye Institute. (2019). Vision and aging resources.