For many people, good vision means good eye health. But that is not necessarily true. Regular eye exams can catch problems before it's too late and that alone can be the difference in saving your vision.
By 2020, 43 million Americans will be at risk for significant vision loss or blindness from age-related eye diseases, such as cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and macular degeneration, an increase of more than 50 percent over the current number of Americans with these diseases. Despite the statistics, many Americans are more concerned about weight gain or back pain than they are of vision loss.
Aaron Weingeist, MD, an ophthalmologist in Seattle, regularly sees patients who thought they were fine. "As an example, an otherwise healthy, 38 year-old man came to see me complaining of mild blurriness in his vision," he said. "He had nearly perfect vision, but after dilating his eyes I found severe hemorrhages and swollen spots in both eyes. Although he had a family history of diabetes and had similar symptoms five years ago, he never had a follow-up examination or further testing. He is now coping with diabetic retinopathy but was very thankful to finally be diagnosed."
The American Academy of Ophthalmology reminds otherwise healthy Americans of the importance of getting regular eye exams, and for those who have never seen an ophthalmologist—at the age of 40. This is the age when early signs of eye disease and changes in vision may first occur, even if you have seemingly perfect vision. For individuals at any age with symptoms of, or at risk for, eye disease (such as those with a family history of eye disease, diabetes or high blood pressure), the Academy recommends those individuals see their ophthalmologist to determine how frequently their eyes should be examined. Based on the results of the initial screening, an ophthalmologist will prescribe the necessary intervals for follow-up exams.
"Eye diseases become more common as we age. By getting a comprehensive eye exam, and following through with regular eye exams based on the recommendation of your doctor, it can be the difference in saving your vision or preventing further vision loss. Whether its primary open-angle glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy or retinitis pigmentosa, regular visits to the eye doctor will monitor the disease from the start and prevent it from getting worse. Often patients with eye diseases do not have recognizable symptoms until the diseases are quite advanced," says Dr. Weingeist. "Vision problems can be prevented only if identified, monitored and treated early."