Definition & Overview

Eyesight naturally deteriorates with age, but the rate of deterioration can be slowed down by living a healthy lifestyle, taking care of the eyes, and consulting an optometrist on a periodic basis. Undergoing an eye exam is just as important as an annual physical exam, maybe even more if you already have vision problems.

Age-related vision problems are only some of the possible reasons for poor eyesight. The ability to see objects clearly relies heavily on the four main structures of the eye: cornea, lens, retina, and optic nerves. Light enters through the cornea and then passes through the retina. The lens focuses the light and the retina converts it into a neural signal. The signal is then transmitted to the brain through the optic nerves. The brain interprets the signal, which would then complete the vision process.

Eyesight is a complicated process requiring several parts to work together simultaneously. If there’s a problem with any one of those parts, eyesight is affected, or vision may not occur at all.

Therefore, it’s imperative that the eyes are well taken care of at all times. Aside from practicing preventive measures, such as protecting the eyes by wearing eye protection, like sunglasses or safety glasses, any possible problems must be identified as early as possible. This is where the expertise of an optometrist come into play.

Optometrists are trained to detect problems such as diseases and infections. They can also recommend and provide eyewear to correct any vision problems, such as myopia (nearsightedness) and hyperopia (farsightedness).

In some countries, optometrists are licensed to provide medications to treat certain types of eye diseases. However, many serious eye problems, such as retinal detachment or cataract, are beyond the skills of an optometrist. Nevertheless, optometrists are able to identify such problems and refer patients to a trusted ophthalmologist for further diagnosis and treatment.

Who Should Go and Expected Results

Everybody should undergo periodic consultations with an optometrist. Children should undergo an eye test before they reach one year, when they reach three years, and before they enter grade school. After that, optometrist consultations should be scheduled at least every two years. This schedule should continue into adulthood until the age of 60. Those 60 and above should have an annual eye test.

An optometrist consultation should take less than 30 minutes to complete unless the optometrist identifies a problem and needs to run more tests. Most problems are vision related and the tests are mostly to identify the grade of corrective lenses that the patient would need to wear.

However, if a problem involves a certain type of disease, the optometrist would refer the patient to an ophthalmologist for further diagnosis.

How Does the Procedure Work?

Optometrist consultations usually begin with a short interview with the goal to identify any problems with your eyesight or if you’re experiencing vision-related symptoms such as such as headaches and nausea. If it is your first time to see an optometrist, you might need to provide a medical history. This can help the optometrist avoid prescribing any medications that could adversely affect your condition or any medications you’re currently taking.

After the interview, the optometrist will perform a series of tests including a visual acuity test. Most people have undergone this type of test at least once in their lives. The test involves reading sets of letters from a set distance to determine how well you can see.

During the same test, the optometrist will have you cover the left eye and read from the right. You’ll then be asked to cover the right eye and read from the left. This test determines how well your eyes work together.

The optometrist will then inquire if you have any problems with identifying colors. If so, color blindness test will be conducted not just to identify the problem but also to determine its extent.

Optometrists not only check the exterior surface of the eye but the interior as well. This process is done through a procedure called retinoscopy and slit-lamp examination. If the optometrist determines that you require eyeglasses or contact lenses, a refraction test will be performed to identify the power of the lenses you’ll need.

Possible Risks and Complications

There won’t be any invasive procedures or tests done during an optometry consultation, so there aren’t any risks, except maybe if the optometrist is careless with the instruments used during the tests. An instrument could physically damage the eye, or an incorrect reading could result in prescribing the wrong lenses.

References:

  • American Academy of Ophthalmology: "eyeSmart: Eye Screening for Children;" "Vision Screening Recommendations for Adults 40 to 60;" "Vision Screening * Recommendations for Adults Over 60;" and "Vision Screening Recommendations for Adults Under 40."
  • American Optometric Association: "Comprehensive Eye and Vision Examination."
  • Prevent Blindness America: "How Often Should I Have an Eye Exam?"
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