Why You Need an Eye Exam (Even If You Don’t Need Glasses)

Healthy Living

August 25, 2022

If you’re blessed with 20/20 vision, then a trip to the eye doctor might be the last thing on your mind. But even if you don’t need glasses, seeing someone who specializes in eye health is worth a regular checkup. 

That’s because getting your eyes checked out may help keep them — and the rest of your body — in better overall shape.

Not convinced? Here are 10 medical conditions that make scheduling an eye exam a must, even if you don’t need glasses.

Disclaimer: this article is for information only and should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Check in with your doctor if you have concerns about your health.

Eyes and Health

Your eyes provide clues to the health of your whole body. Getting an eye exam could be the key to learning that you have a medical condition — and not just related to your eyeballs. 

And if you already have one of the following health problems, an eye exam is all the more important.

#1) Strabismus

Even very young children should have eye exams, and that’s because some eye problems manifest early in life, such as strabismus. It’s more commonly known as crossed eyes.

You might think that you’d notice if your child had crossed eyes. But while the signs are sometimes obvious, this condition can also present in subtle ways. 

Eye doctors can perform a series of checks to make sure that your child’s eye muscles are working together properly. If not, they’ll know how to proceed.

#2) Amblyopia

Better known as lazy eye, amblyopia is a condition in which one eye is stronger than the other. It can be the result of crossed eyes or another medical condition. Lazy eye is commonly diagnosed in childhood.

With a specialist’s supervision, kids can wear a patch or use blurring drops to correct this issue. Not treating lazy eye in the early years could lead to lifelong vision problems. And in some cases, a patient may end up losing vision in one eye altogether.

#3) Diabetes

The need for regular eye exams doesn’t end after the school years. Eye doctors can detect signs of disease in patients of all ages. 

Diabetes is a key example.

A person with diabetes may have blood vessels in the eye that leak fluid. For some patients, that can be the first tip-off that something is wrong. If your eye doctor spots signs of blood or yellow fluid leakage in your retina, you may need to undergo further testing.

Diagnosing and managing diabetes is critical. Otherwise, you may end up with a wide range of health problems, including vision loss.

#4) Cancer

Your eyes can even show signs of cancer. Skin cancers may grow around your eyes or even on the eyeball itself. Blood cancers can cause changes in the eye, and various tumors may affect the structures related to vision. 

For example, the pressure exerted by a brain tumor could lead to swelling near your optic nerve.

#5) Sexually transmitted infections

STIs can affect all parts of your body, including your eyes. Hepatitis B, for instance, can cause inflammation throughout your eye. It may harm the optic nerve, the blood vessels or other ocular tissues.

Pubic lice can take up residence among your eyelashes, too. Other STIs that can upset eye function include HIV, syphilis and chlamydia. 

While eye appointments shouldn’t be your only safeguard against catching and spreading STIs, they could play a role in helping you manage your sexual health.

#6) High blood pressure

The blood vessels in your eye may change in response to high blood pressure, like taking on strange shapes or leaking blood. 

Eye dilation is a common component of many eye exams. Patients don’t always enjoy it, but it’s crucial for detecting vessel changes from high blood pressure or other conditions.

#7) High cholesterol

If you start to develop high cholesterol before your 40th birthday, your eyes may show it. 

An eye doctor may observe an unusual ring around your cornea. If it’s yellow or blue, it could mean that your cholesterol level is high.

Your retinal blood vessels can show signs of high cholesterol, too. The doctor may notice that the vessels have buildup in them.

#8) Grave’s Disease

Hyperthyroidism can affect the position of your eyeballs and eyelids. Your doctor may observe those symptoms along with dryness or impaired vision. Grave’s Disease is the most common form of thyroid disease that causes these symptoms.

#9) Autoimmune diseases

An eye exam could turn up evidence of several different autoimmune diseases. These include Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Other possibilities are multiple sclerosis and myasthenia gravis.

Eye symptoms will vary based on the disease. 

Some may be issues that you’d notice before an appointment, such as blurry vision or dry eyes. Others, like droopy eyelids or eyeball inflammation, might be more obvious to an eye expert.

#10) Glaucoma

People ages 60 and up are the most at risk for glaucoma. This condition involves increased pressure in the eye. It can lead to a damaged optic nerve and vision loss.

Without an eye exam, you might not realize that you have glaucoma until it’s too late. But regular pressure checks may help you catch this condition while it’s still possible to preserve your vision.

When to Visit the Eye Doctor

From birth on, kids should have their eyes checked. Your pediatrician will likely take care of the earliest screenings as part of your child’s routine wellness checks. But infants and toddlers with special circumstances, such as being born prematurely, may need to see an eye specialist.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) advises that kids may be ready for their first visit to the eye doctor when they’re 3 to 5 years old. And once kids are 5, they need to have a full vision screening.

The eye doctor will probably want to continue seeing your children throughout their school years. Ask how often you should schedule an appointment.

According to AAO guidelines, otherwise healthy people who don’t need glasses should still have one appointment in their 20s. Once you hit your 30s, that recommendation changes to two visits.

Everyone should schedule an exam around their 40th birthday. That way the doctor can provide guidance on how often you should come in over the next several years. If you have a family history of eye diseases, your doctor may want to see you annually.

By age 60, eye exams should be a regular part of your life, even if you don’t wear glasses. The National Eye Institute says that everyone ages 60 and up should have a dilated eye exam every year or two.

Which Eye Doctor to See

There are two main types of eye doctors: optometrists and ophthalmologists.

Optometrists have a Doctor of Optometry degree, but they aren’t medical doctors. They’ve completed their doctoral studies at an optometry school. Optometrists can handle all of your basic eye care needs, such as vision checks and glasses prescriptions. In many cases, they can diagnose eye conditions and prescribe medicine to treat them.

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors with specialized training in eye health. Because they’ve attended medical school, they have more extensive training than optometrists.  Ophthalmologists can do all of the jobs that optometrists do, such as checking eye health and fitting people for corrective lenses. But they can also handle more complex eye problems and perform surgery.

In general, an optometrist may be enough for your everyday vision needs. But if the optometrist detects signs of a problem, you may get a referral to an ophthalmologist. 

It also comes down to preference and, in some cases, the available options based on your vision insurance. In any case, make eye health part of your overall healthcare. It could help you to catch and treat problems early.