Many people believe that an eye exam is limited to evaluating your eyesight—how well you can see and whether you need glasses or contact lenses—and identifying diseases specific to the eye. Thorough eye exams, however, are important not just for detecting vision problems, many of which begin without noticeable symptoms, but also for your overall health. A thorough eye exam can detect a number of serious medical conditions, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration as well as common eye conditions such as cataracts. An eye exam can also show evidence of diabetes and other health issues.
Glaucoma is a disease that causes damage to the optic nerve, the fibers inside the eye that carry visual images to the brain. Unfortunately, a person can be unaware that s/he has glaucoma until it is very late. There is no pain in most forms of glaucoma, and vision is not blurry in the earlier stages of the disease. Glaucoma is treatable if caught in its early stages. If left undiagnosed, the disease can lead to total blindness.
Cataracts are another common eye problem that you probably have heard of. Cataracts are a clouding of the lens inside the eye. Early clouding can be corrected with eyeglasses. Eventually, surgery is needed to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a permanent, plastic implant. So far, there is no laser procedure to remove cataracts and there are no medications to treat cataracts or prevent their formation.
A comprehensive eye exam done by an optometrist or ophthalmologist can even identify early signs of some conditions and diseases. By looking at the retina, its blood vessels, and other parts of the eye, your eye doctor may be able to detect if you are developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or other health problems.
In addition, an annual eye exam is extremely important for people who have been diagnosed with diabetes. Damage to the blood vessels in your eyes (called diabetic retinopathy) can cause vision loss and is a leading cause of blindness. When retinopathy is found early, laser treatment may help you to maintain your vision.
Let caring for your eyes become a part of your regular healthcare routine and you’ll see the difference!
Dr. Rachel Negris has been an optometrist for 27 years and with Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates since 1984. She received her Doctor of Optometry degree from New England College of Optometry in Boston, MA. Dr. Negris is fluent in Sign Language, and has a strong interest in caring for people with hearing impairment and other disabilities.