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Eye Exam Month: Why Eye Exams Are Important

August 15, 2023
Person resting their chin in a head stability device during an eye exam.

Regular eye exams are vital for detecting hidden health issues and preventing vision loss. This MUSC Health optometrist explains the importance of eye exams for maintaining both your eye health and overall well-being.

Why do I need an eye exam?

An eye exam is often when serious conditions such as diabetes and impending stroke are detected, says MUSC Health optometrist Dr. James F. Hill, associate professor and director of Primary Eye Care and Low Vision Services at the Storm Eye Institute.

“Many people assume they’re healthy if they feel OK and that their eyes are healthy if they’re seeing fine. Many times, however, that’s not the case, especially if someone has a family history of health or eye problems. The eyes are truly a gateway to our systemic health, and if we catch something early enough, we can prevent systemic disease and vision loss.”

We talked with Dr. Hill about the importance of regular eye exams.

When should I start getting regular eye exams?

The American Optometric Association recommends:

  • 6 to 12 months: Eye health begins in infancy. Infants should have an eye exam with pupil dilation to be checked for nearsightedness and farsightedness, eye muscle movements, retinal health, and other abnormalities.
  • ages 6 to 17: From age 6 to 17, children and teens should have eye exams every 2 years unless they are nearsighted or farsighted or have astigmatism, congenital cataracts or any risk factors for eye disease.
  • ages 18 to 65: Adults can continue the same schedule, getting an eye exam with dilation every 2 years if they have no family history of eye disease, are not taking any special medications and are in good health.
  • age 66 and over: Regardless of their health, people should have their eyes examined every year because the risk for eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and macular degeneration increases with age.

What happens during an eye exam?

During a thorough eye exam, the doctor will:

  1. Get a patient’s personal and family history, including a family history of eye diseases, and inquire about prescription medications and any existing health issues
  2. Check how clearly you can see without corrective eyewear and look for signs of nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia, the condition when the eyes can’t focus on objects up close
  3. Examine your pupils, check color vison, visual fields, eye muscle movement and depth perception
  4. Check your lens and cornea as well as tear film in the front of the eye
  5. Check for eye pressure, which, if abnormal, can damage the optic nerve and cause glaucoma

Why do I need my eyes dilated?

The drops prevent the pupil from closing when the bright light is shone into the eye. After the drops are put in, it takes about 20 minutes for the pupil to dilate fully and vision is blurred. We use drops to relax the eye muscles and open the pupil so we can get a full view inside the eye, including:

  • The optic nerve
  • Retina
  • Macula
  • Vascular system to make sure everything is healthy

How can I prepare for an eye exam?

You don’t have to do anything before your appointment. If we dilate the eyes, we provide sunglasses for the patient to wear in sunlight. If this is a patient’s first exam and the eyes have never been dilated, we recommend bringing someone who can drive home because of the extra sensitivity to light.

What are the most common eye diseases?

The 4 big eye diseases are:

  • Glaucoma
  • Diabetic Retinopathy
  • Macular Degeneration
  • Cataracts

As the population ages, the CDC predicts that more than 76 million Americans will develop one of these diseases in the next 20 years and that the incidence of these diseases will double or nearly double by 2050.

For example, the number of Americans with macular degeneration is predicted to increase from 2 million in 2022 to more than 6 million; glaucoma cases are expected to jump from 2.7 currently to more than 7 million, and diabetic retinopathy is predicted to double from 7.7 million to 14.6 million by 2050. The number of cataract diagnoses is also expected to swell.

What’s something everyone should know about eye care?

Eighty percent of Americans say vision is their most important sense and that they don’t want to lose it. There are many reasons to get regular eye exams and to protect our eye health and maximize our vision potential. Good vision is important for schooling, vocations and our daily activities.

For more information, visit MUSC Health’s Optometry Services. To make an appointment, call 843-792-2020.