Vision Screenings vs. Eye Exams
Aren’t Vision Screenings Enough?
Vision screenings can be an important first step to vision health, but they cannot and should not take the place of a comprehensive eye exam at an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Vision screenings are usually performed by a pediatrician or their staff or a school nurse. They can help identify people who might have vision problems, but they will usually refer them to an eye care professional.
An example of a vision screening is when, during a child’s routine physical, their doctor has him or her cover on eye and read an eye chart in the distance, usually 20 feet away. Another example of a vision screening is the eye test you take when you get your driver’s license renewed.
In some cases, screenings can include tests for muscle coordination, blur and/or common eye diseases, but screenings can miss important vision issues that require treatment. It is important to understand that only an optometrist or ophthalmologist is trained and licensed to perform a comprehensive eye exam.
But I Can See Just Fine!
One of the most common misconceptions is that if you aren’t experiencing noticeable vision issues, an eye exam by an eye care professional is unnecessary, or even a waste of time and money. Eye exams actually go beyond determining your prescription for eyeglasses or contacts; your eye doctor also evaluated how your eyes work together, checks for common eye diseases and assesses your eyes as an indicator of your overall health.
In fact, because the eye is the only organ that can be viewed from the outside of the body, eye doctors are often the first healthcare professionals to detect systemic conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, lupus, risk of stroke and even some cancers. And in general, the earlier these conditions are detected, the more treatable they are.
By looking at your eye’s blood vessels and retina, your eye doctor can tell if you are developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol or other problems. Diabetes can be detected if they see small blood leaks or bleeding of the eye and swelling of the macula, which can result in vision loss if not addressed.
Who Should Get an Eye Exam? Everyone.
Because children are unable to tell whether what they are seeing is “normal”, vision issues can escape diagnosis and have serious consequences for their development and quality of life. School vision screenings can miss hyperopia (far-sightedness) and binocular vision (eyes not teaming together), both of which make it difficult to read up close or at mid-range. Undetected, vision issues can undermine school performance, self-esteem and lead to low motivation or misdiagnosis of a learning disability.
Adults, too, should get a regular comprehensive eye exam. Just like an annual check-up or semi-annual dentist visits, annual eye exams should be part of everyone’s health routine. Not only will an exam help you see your best today, but it can help you protect your vision, and your overall health, for tomorrow.