Eye health is important at any age, beginning with young children. Maintaining eye health starts with scheduling regular screenings and comprehensive eye examinations.
Vision screenings and eye exams are critical to detect problems like amblyopia, or lazy eye, the most common cause of visual impairment among young children, according to the National Eye Institute.
That’s why experts, like the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, recommend vision screening for all children at least once between ages 3 and 5 years. A pediatrician, family physician or other trained health care provider can conduct screenings, which are often offered at schools, community health centers or community events. If a vision problem is suspected, the next step should be an eye examination performed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
Adult examinations help prevent problems
Amblyopia is also the most common cause of visual impairment among young and middle-aged adults. But it can be largely prevented, if detected and treated early. In addition, vision-threatening eye diseases like glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy have no symptoms in their early stages, but they slowly affect your eyes and can lead to blindness.
“If you have regular comprehensive dilated eye exams, we can find these serious eye diseases before they advance and affect your vision,” says Andrea Zimmerman, OD, a low vision specialist at Lighthouse Guild. For this test, your eye doctor will use drops to dilate your pupils to get a better view of the back of your eyes, she explains. “If you find out you’re in the early stages of an eye disease, your eye care professional will help you to maintain the highest possible level of eye health and visual function.”
Tips for good eye health
- Speak up if your vision changes. If you notice blurry spots, blurred vision, halos surrounding lights, eyes that itch or burn, black spots or “floaters,” double vision, tearing or watering eyes, or if you find yourself squinting or having trouble reading or watching television, it’s time to make an appointment. An eye doctor should be made aware of any gradual changes in your vision so the necessary actions can be taken to maintain eye health.
- Get regular exams. Your eye doctor will tell you how frequently you should have a dilated eye exam if you have risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension or a family history of eye disease. Otherwise, the American Optometric Association recommends an exam every two years, if you’re younger than 60 and are not experiencing symptoms of eye or vision problems, and once a year if you’re over 60 and not experiencing symptoms of eye or vision problems.
- Seek urgent care. Seek urgent care if you experience sudden and/or severe eye pain, sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes, light flashes, or if your eyes turn bright red. Any of these could indicate a severe problem and should be addressed immediately.
- Get UV-protected sunglasses. Tinted glasses will not protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. “In fact, because your pupils open wider when shaded by dark lenses, UV light is able to go straight through the unprotected lenses right into your open pupils, causing more damage to your eyes,” says Dr. Zimmerman. She says it’s important to get good quality eyewear that provides both UVA and UVB coverage, to protect your eyes properly.
- Give your eyes a rest from the effects of digital eye strain. This type of eye strain—also known as computer vision syndrome—doesn’t permanently damage eyesight, but symptoms could include burning or tired eyes, headaches, neck pain, fatigue, blurred or double vision. To rest your eyes, it’s good to look up from your work every 20 minutes, focus on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds (the 20-20-20 rule).