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A routine comprehensive eye exam is the best way to insure a lifetime of good vision and healthy eyes.
Your eye doctor will check for refractive errors such as nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism during your eye exam. He or she will also evaluate the health of your eyes and look for signs of common (and not so common) eye problems.
Here are just a few of the most common eye problems your optometrist or ophthalmologist will be looking for during your exam:
Cataracts. A cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye. The cause of cataracts is not fully understood, but most cataracts are associated with aging. Cataracts are very common among seniors, but even young adults can be affected, and some children are born with congenital cataracts. When lens clouding begins to significantly affect vision, cataract surgery is required.
Glaucoma. This is damage to the optic nerve, usually associated with high eye pressure. However, in some cases, vision loss from glaucoma can occur even if you have normal intraocular pressure (IOP). Left untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness. The only way to know if you have glaucoma or are at risk of the disease is to have a comprehensive eye exam. If you wait until you notice vision loss from glaucoma, there is no way to restore your vision. Early detection and glaucoma treatment usually can prevent peripheral vision loss from occurring.
Macular Degeneration. Also called age-related macular degeneration or AMD, macular degeneration is the leading cause of permanent vision loss among seniors. In AMD, the most sensitive part of the retina (macula) breaks down, causing mild to severe central vision loss. The underlying cause of macular degeneration is not fully understood, but risk factors include a family history of AMD, smoking, and a poor diet. Though some treatments are available to slow vision loss from AMD, in many cases the condition causes permanent visual disability. Low vision aids often can be helpful for people with significant vision loss from macular degeneration.
Blepharitis. This is inflammation of the eyelids, causing them to become red, swollen and irritated. Another sign of blepharitis is the formation of dandruff-like crusting at the base of the eyelashes. Blepharitis usually is caused by bacteria or irregular secretions from the oil glands at the eyelid margin. Treatment includes medicated eye drops and/or ointments, as well as lid hygiene practices designed to reduce the amount of bacteria on the eyelids and keep lid glands functioning properly.
Conjunctivitis is inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, which is the layer covering the white of the eye. Commonly called pink eye, conjunctivitis often is contagious and causes symptoms and signs that can include itchy, watery eyes; sensitivity to light; a feeling something is in your eye (foreign body sensation); and a sticky, mucous-like discharge. Conjunctivitis usually can be successfully treated with medicated eye drops.
Droopy eyelids are not a sight-threatening condition, but at their worst, they can interfere with vision. This is typically an age-related condition and can be remedied with a cosmetic eyelid surgery procedure called blepharoplasty. This procedure is performed by a cosmetic surgeon or an ophthalmologist who specializes in eyelid surgery.
Dry eyes are a common complaint and a frequent cause of contact lens discomfort. Symptoms of dry eyes include burning, stinging, a foreign body sensation and intermittent blurred vision. The most common treatments for dry eyes are artificial tears and/or medicated eye drops formulated to decrease inflammation and help you produce more tears. Other options include insertion of tiny silicone "stoppers" (punctal plugs) in the tear drainage ducts of your eyelids to keep more tears on your eyes, and nutritional supplements like flaxseed oil and fish oil to reduce the risk of chronic dry eyes.
Eye allergies are caused by sensitivity to airborne irritants (allergens) such as pollen, dust or pet dander. Symptoms of eye allergies characteristically are red, itchy and watery eyes. Medicated eye drops are the most common treatment. For contact lens wearers with eye allergies, daily disposable contact lenses are often recommended because the lenses are unlikely to accumulate irritants.
Eye twitching is an annoying, but harmless, firing of nerves in an eyelid, causing the lid to twitch uncontrollably. The cause of most eyelid twitches is unknown, but stress, lack of sleep and high ammounts of caffeine may increase your risk of eye twitching. Usually, eye twitching resolves in a day or two without treatment. Rest, reducing caffeine intake, and applying a cold compress to the eyelid can help.
Floaters are small, lint-like shadows that drift ("float") in front of your eyes. They typically are harmless, and are caused by small bits of tissue that are suspended within the clear, gel-like material (vitreous) that fills the back of the eye. When this material floats directly in front of the retina, it casts a shadow that our brain perceives as something floating in front of our eyes. Eye floaters are normal, but usually become more noticeable with age, due to the vitreous becoming more liquid over time. But a sudden increase in vitreous floaters—especially if accompanied by flashes of light—is a concern, and you should see your eye doctor immediately. These symptoms could be caused by a retinal detachment, which is a medical emergency. Failure to promptly treat a detached retina can lead to permanent vision loss or even blindness.
A stye is an infected oil gland in the eyelid. A stye looks like a pimple on your eyelid and the affected area becomes red and sensitive to touch. In most cases, a stye will open and drain on its own. Applying warm compresses to the eyelid can help a stye heal faster, but you should avoid applying too much pressure on your eyelid or trying to "pop" a stye.
A subconjunctival hemorrhage is leaking of a small blood vessel on the "white" of the eye (sclera) that can make it look like you have blood in your eye. The condition is painless and harmless and typically will resolve on its own without treatment in a matter of several days. A subconjunctival hemorrhage (SCH) can be caused by any physical exertion, such as coughing, sneezing, lifting heavy objects, blowing your nose or vomiting. Trauma to the eye also can cause a SCH, and people who are taking blood thinners are at greater risk for eye hemorrhages. If you sustain a subconjunctival hemorrhage from trauma to the eye, you should see your eye doctor immediately. Eye trauma that is sufficient to cause a SCH might also cause other, more serious problems, such as bleeding inside the eye (hyphema) or a traumatic detached retina.