Why should you have an eye exam?

August 27, 1999

Eye ExamBy ERIN HEATH / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

Doctors say you should get an eye exam every year. But your vision seems fine, and you're tempted to avoid making another trip to the doctor's office. Don't. Local eye specialists say you may not be seeing as clearly as you think you are.

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Optometrist Jeffrey Reynolds of Sterling Optical in Hagerstown recommends getting an eye exam once a year. Children should have their eyes checked by about age 3, he says.

Most people with natural vision loss, like nearsightedness or farsightedness, have eyes that change before they reached their mid-20s, Reynolds says. Vision loss also can happen to people who have to regularly strain their eyes, such as those who work with computers.


"There are some gradual changes that people don't notice until I give them glasses, and then they can see a difference," Reynolds says.

Eyeglasses and contact lenses are the common ways to correct poor vision, and certain forms of eye surgery are gaining popularity, he explains.

An annual exam can pick up eye diseases as well, some of which can lead to vision loss without having any obvious symptoms, says ophthalmologist Dara Tash of Retina Center of Maryland in Hagerstown.

One such disease is glaucoma - damage to the optic nerve usually caused by a buildup of eye pressure. People don't see it happening because it affects their peripheral vision first, the side vision that allows people to see out of the corner of their eye, Tash says.

"There is no pain. There is no evidence of vision loss early on. People often don't notice it until it reaches the center of the eye because we don't use our peripheral vision as much," he says.

Once people lose their sight, it is unlikely they can ever regain it, Tash says. However, doctors have treatments that can stop or slow the vision loss caused by many eye diseases. That's why early diagnosis is important, he explains.

Not every disease gets more common with age. Some children acquire a disorder called amblyopia or "lazy eye," in which they have one strong eye that basically "takes over" for the weaker eye, Tash says.

To fix the problem, doctors often give children eye patches or glasses to force them to use the weak eye. But visual brain cells develop during the first decade of life, so if a child with amblyopia isn't treated by age 10, the damage most likely will be permanent, he explains.

Tash says eye exams also may lead to the detection of diseases not exclusive to the eyes. Two such illnesses are diabetes and hypertension, which can cause hemorrhages or vascular changes in the eyes.

"They say the eye is the window to the soul, well, it is also the window to your health," Tash says.

It's time to reconsider skipping that doctor's appointment. Getting an eye exam every year could be the key to saving your vision. Or your life.

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