The frequency of your eye exams depends on many factors, including your age, a history of eye problems and your overall health.

August has been designated as National Eye Exam Month.  We spoke with Dr. Carolyn Kloek, Clinical Director, Massachusetts Eye and Ear (MEEI) at Longwood, a clinical affiliate of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, about the importance of eye exams and what you can do to keep your eyes healthy.

How often should you get an eye exam, who should you see, and what does an eye exam involve?

The frequency of your eye exams depends on many factors, including your age, a history of eye problems, and your overall health. In general, for healthy individuals, we recommend an exam with an ophthalmologist every decade, beginning in your twenties.

Once you reach age 60, I advise people to see an ophthalmologist every year or two, as certain vision problems, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration, can increase as we age.

People with certain risk factors may require more frequent eye exams. These include people with conditions such as high blood pressure, sickle cell anemia, diabetes, or a history of serious eye disease, such as glaucoma, retinal detachment, and corneal disorders in themselves or their family members.

More frequent eye exams also are recommended for people with only one functional eye or who have experienced eye trauma. If you fall in one of these categories, it’s a good idea to schedule an exam with an ophthalmologist.  He or she can advise you on how often you’ll need an exam.

A complete eye exam includes examining the back of eye, including the retina; testing eye pressure (a screen for glaucoma); measuring your peripheral vision; testing how well you see various distances; and measuring refraction or focusing power of the eye.

What can you do to take care of your eyes?

The best thing you can do for your eyes is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eat sensibly, including eating lots of leafy green vegetables; exercise; get plenty of sleep; and don’t smoke. I also recommend that people wear sunglasses if they’re going to be outside for an extended period of time. Prolonged sun exposure can increase the risk of serious eye conditions, such as macular degeneration and cataracts. In general, if you will be outside long enough to need sunscreen, you also should wear sunglasses.

Wear protective eyewear if you’re participating in high risk activities, including certain sports or any activity where debris or particles could fly into your eyes unexpectedly, such as lawn work (mowing, weed-whacking), hammering, or working on your car.

Contact lens wearers should be sure to follow the instructions from your eye care provider about how long you should wear your lenses. And don’t forget to switch your case and solution at recommended intervals.

Other considerations about eye health

Diabetes:  If you have diabetes, it’s extremely important to have an eye exam at least once per year.  Diabetic eye disease can cause severe vision loss or even blindness; however, it often can be treated before vision loss occurs.

Medications: Also be aware that certain medications can impact your eye health. For example, prolonged use of steroids can cause cataracts and glaucoma. This includes people who take inhaled steroids for asthma or steroid nasal sprays for allergies. Though only a small portion of patients on steroids may develop eye problems, it’s important to monitor your eye health to avoid problems. You also should alert your ophthalmologist about medications you’re taking. Some, including those commonly prescribed for prostate issues, can cause problems during cataract surgery.

Glaucoma: This serious eye condition, in which increased pressure in the eyes can damage the optic nerve, is more common than most people realize. In the US, it’s estimated that 2.2 million people have glaucoma. Though the incidence increases as people age, it also can affect the young. It’s important to begin eye exams early in adulthood, because most patients with glaucoma won’t have symptoms until they have lost a significant amount of vision. Early diagnosis also is important because glaucoma is very treatable. Most patients respond to treatment with a topical medication to the eyes.

Macular degeneration: One of the more common causes of vision loss as we age, macular degeneration, also has treatment options. The progression of dry macular degeneration may be slowed by taking certain vitamins. Wet macular degeneration, which typically has a more sudden onset of vision change, can be treated with an injection of medication into the eye.

Learn more about eye health:

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