Blinding eye diseases may show no early symptoms

in Contributors/Dr. Mark Siegel, MD FAAO by

Mark Siegel, MD, FAAO
The American Academy of Ophthalmology urges all Americans to make regular dilated eye exams a part of their health routine during Healthy Vision Month. Observed each year during the month of May, Healthy Vision Month is an annual campaign to educate the public about ways to make their healthy vision last a lifetime. In addition to routine eye exams, healthy habits — such as a nutritious diet, regular exercise, not smoking, and wearing sunglasses — can help prevent eye disease and vision loss.
There are seldom any warning signs or symptoms during the early stages of serious eye diseases like glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. However, it is in the early stages of disease that treatments can most effectively prevent blindness. The only way to catch many eye diseases early is through routine screening.
Most Americans understand the importance of regular dental visits or cancer screenings, but often forget about their eye health until they notice a problem. Too often, this costs patients their vision. A dilated eye exam is the only way to catch eye disease early so that preventive measures can be taken to save sight.”
Eye Exam 101
A comprehensive eye exam is a painless procedure that can detect potentially sight-robbing conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, even before a patient experiences any symptoms. A comprehensive eye exam should cover the following:
• Medical history, assessed through questions about vision and family history.
• Visual acuity, tested by reading a standardized eye chart.
• Pupils, evaluated to determine how well they respond to light.
• Eye movement, tested to ensure proper eye alignment and ocular muscle function.
• Prescription for corrective lenses, evaluated to ensure proper vision correction.
• Side vision, tested for possible vision loss and glaucoma risk.
• Eye pressure, tested as a risk factor for glaucoma.
• Front part of the eye, examined to reveal any cataracts, corneal scars or signs of inflammation.
• Retina and optic nerve, assessed through a dilated eye exam using special eye drops, which allows an ophthalmologist to thoroughly examine the back of the eye for signs of damage from disease.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that all Americans have a baseline eye exam with an ophthalmologist — an eye medical doctor or surgeon with the skill and experience to diagnose and treat the full range of eye diseases and disorders — no later than age 40. At that time, the ophthalmologist will determine how frequently a patient needs follow-up exams, based on the individual patient’s eye health needs. By age 65, the academy recommends eye exams every one to two years, or as directed by an ophthalmologist.