More Than Meets The Eye - Why you need to have your eyes checked
Author: Dr. Robert Szypczak, Optometrist
Having a yearly eye exam will not only help you see better, but more importantly, it will ensure that you will keep seeing for years to come! A good eye exam doesn’t just check your glasses or contact lens prescription, but also checks the overall health of your eyes. This is what the dilation is for. A dilated eye exam is just like the eye doctor’s version of “checking for cavities.” Just as a dentist will ask you to open up and say “Ahhh,” so that they can see the teeth in the back of your mouth, a dilated eye exam opens up the pupil so that the eye doctor can see everything inside the eye.
Dentists must find a cavity before you lose a tooth; an eye doctors must find the eye disease before you lose an eye! So when your eye doctor asks to dilate you, please say yes, as they can’t diagnose something they can’t see.
Do not be afraid of the dilation drops, as typically they will only cause light sensitivity for two to three hours and a bit of reading difficulties for one hour. You may leave the office feeling like a vampire, being afraid of the lights, but you can still drive yourself home with a good pair of sunglasses. These minor side effects are well worth it to know that you have healthy eyes and clear vision.
What you may not realize is that the eye’s health can sometimes clue us into problems with your overall systemic health. You have heard the old saying, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” I like to put my own twist on that saying by saying that the eyes are the doorway to systemic disease detection. This is simply because a dilated eye exam can detect many systemic diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, and even brain tumors. You may wonder how this is possible. Your eyes are an extension of your brain, sharing many of the same arteries, veins and nerves. The eye is also one of the only places that you can see blood vessels and nerves from the outside looking in. The abnormal appearance of the retina and its blood vessels and nerves may reveal some major health changes in your body. For instance, we may see a cholesterol plaque lodge in an artery or leaky blood vessels due to high blood pressure or diabetes. Truthfully, many clues to your overall general health can be found by examining the eye! So it is essential that eye doctors catch any damage quickly to minimize the tissue damage and associated vision loss. A good eye exam may not only save your vision, but your life.
So who needs an eye exam? Truthfully, everyone! Especially kids, as their first eye exam is likely the most important in their life. Our vision is the first sense that we have to develop to adult-like levels, and it is usually done developing by the age of 12. If a child has a weak eye and we do not catch it early during the critical time of development, that eye can remain the weak eye for the rest of his or her life! This is because if an eye develops to a blurry image, it will never have had the chance to see the 20/20 clarity necessary to develop the 20/20 vision cells in the brain. Once the blueprints for our vision are drawn during early childhood, we do not have a chance to go back and fix it. It is estimated that up to 80 percent of what a child learns comes from vision. So one of the most important things to do for your children before they start school is to have their eyes examined.
What about the patient who says, “I see fine; why do I need to get my eyes examined?” Well, about 66 percent of the population has a noticeable visual problem. For example, they may not be able to see far away or up close. For the other 34 percent of the population, would it matter if I told you that there is “more than meets the eye” when it comes to your vision? Often I will see a patient who comes in for something totally unrelated to an eye health check, whether it be for color contact lenses, or for a medicine to make their eyelashes grow longer and fuller, only to find out during the exam that they have a severe vision-threatening eye disease! For instance, at least once a week someone will come into my office after failing a vision screening, whether it be from the DMV or a physician’s office, usually not understanding why they failed, only to leave thanking their lucky stars that they did get their eyes checked. Sometimes, the eye exam reveals that they happened to have decreased vision due to a sneaky, yet aggressive case of glaucoma, or an advanced cataract, or an early case of macular degeneration, or diabetic eye disease, which is now the number one cause of blindness.
The key to all eye disease is early detection, because with detection, there can be prevention of vision loss. So this is your reminder to please get your eyes checked yearly!