There are certain benchmarks and milestones that indicate it’s time to see the eye doctor. These can be as simple as a developmental milestone – like starting school. Or when you’re diagnosed with a chronic disease that affects eye health – like diabetes.
But the absolute most important time to see an ophthalmologist is when you notice a change in vision. This can include blurred vision, double vision, eye dryness, irritation, pain, or discomfort.
Whether it’s a date on the calendar or a change in condition that’s driving your decision for eye care, knowing the recommended stages for proper screenings can preserve precious sight throughout your lifetime.
The Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends the following time frames for eye exams, from childhood to senior adulthood.
Screening from birth through the teenage years is recommended as children’s eyes grow and change quickly. Screenings are more simplified than a comprehensive exam but alert medical professionals to the need for a more in-depth pediatric eye exam. You can see the full schedule of childhood eye screening guidelines here.
For young adults in good health with normal vision – a baseline exam with an ophthalmologist is recommended during your 20s and twice in your 30s. If you wear contact lenses, see your eye doctor every year to monitor for signs of corneal health.
Exceptions to these baseline recommendations would be an infection, injury, eye pain, or the sudden presence of floaters, flashes or patterns of light. These can all signify an eye emergency and may need immediate attention.
Likewise, if you have diabetes or have a family history of eye disease, your ophthalmologist may want to see you annually to prevent future damage.
If you did not have a baseline comprehensive exam with an ophthalmologist in the young adult years, AAO recommends a complete eye examination after age 40. This is a critical period when early signs of disease or age-related changes in vision may appear.
This benchmark exam becomes more important if you have risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of eye disease. As we age, the eyes are at higher risk of developing diseases that can cause harm to the visual system well before a change in vision is noticed.
As you enter your senior years, you may notice significant changes in your vision. Reading and distance vision may change, along with increased discomfort from glare or bright light.
Your ophthalmologist will monitor for these changes and check for signs of age-related eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetes, macular degeneration, and dry eye.
It’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations to maintain strong vision during your senior years. Think of your ophthalmologist as the primary care physician for your eyes.
Certain eye conditions should never wait. Call an ophthalmologist right away if you experience any of the following concerns.
- Decreased vision, even temporarily
- New floaters (black “strings” or specks in the vision)
- Flashes of light
- Curtain or veil blocking vision
- Haloes (colored circles around lights)
- Eye pain
- Redness of the eye or skin around the eye
- Eye discharge or tearing
- Bulging of one or both eyes
- Crossed eyes
- Double vision
Do You Need an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist or Optician?
Just as you would consider a primary care doctor for your preventative health, seeking medical attention for your eye health grows in importance with age.
The benefits of regular exams go well beyond keeping your eyes in top shape. A close inspection of the lens, retina, and optic nerve can reveal impending dangers to the whole body – high blood pressure, diabetes, and tumors included among them.
“Comprehensive eye exams should be a part of everyone’s health assessment to find problems early before any irreparable vision damage occurs,” confirms Dr. Rana, board-certified ophthalmologist with St Lucie Eye. “An eye exam is one of the few diagnostics where we can literally see inside the body,” he explains. “We can look at the health of blood vessels and nerve tissue that extend to the brain. It’s an amazing way to visualize the health of an individual.”
Which specialty should you see for your eye care concern? An Ophthalmologist, Optometrist, or Optician?
It depends. Each specialty differs in the scope of treatment and education level. Each are valued members of the eye care team.
Opticians are licensed technicians who fit eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other vision-correcting devices. In Florida, Opticians are required to pass a national certification exam and are licensed by the Department of Health.
Optometrists are Doctors of Optometry (OD) rather than medical doctors. They complete four years of post-graduate optometry school after college. An optometrist provides routine eye care that includes yearly exams and the prescription of eyeglasses, contact lenses, and eye medications.
Ophthalmologists are Medical Doctors (MD) who complete eight years of medical school after college. As medical doctors, they diagnose and treat eye conditions such as injury or trauma, cataract, diabetic eye disease, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and many other specialized conditions. Additionally, most ophthalmologists perform out-patient eye surgeries and laser procedures.