Eye exams are for more than vision problems…
When your eye care specialist checks your eyes, they are looking for more than just vision problems. As we get older, our eyes can show signs of other problems in our bodies. Diabetes, cancer, and other diseases can be detected early by looking in your eyes. Eye specific diseases, like macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts, can also be caught early and managed with regular check-ups.
Children and seniors are free…
Because of children’s rapidly changing vision, and senior’s higher risk for eye disease, Alberta Health covers one free eye exam a year for children 18 and under, and seniors 65 and over.
How often should children have eye exams?
Many people think that they don’t need to worry about their eyes until they get old, and for the most part, that’s true. Most healthy adults won’t need to have their eyes checked frequently, unless they notice a problem. However, children’s vision can change, and young children especially may not know how to articulate their visual impairment.
The Toddler Years…
A child should have at least one complete eye examination before the age of 5. Earlier is better, because childhood vision problems like strabismus and amblyopia are easily corrected if they’re caught early, but become more difficult to treat as the child ages. If they are not corrected before age 7, the damage may be permanent. Sometimes a “lazy eye” is obvious, but other times it can be difficult to detect. To be safe, you should still take your child in for an eye exam, even if you don’t notice a problem.
It’s a good idea to take your child for an eye exam before they start school, because children with untreated vision issues can have a difficult time focusing in the classroom. Depending on when your child’s first eye exam happened, this may mean a separate trip to make sure everything is still the same.
The ACAO also runs a Vision Screening program that targets children in Grades 4 and 5. Why at this age? Throughout childhood, the eyes grow with the rest of the body. Even if they had 20/20 vision when they started school, some children’s eyes may have changed. These changes can happen slowly, so the child doesn’t even realize that their vision has worsened. We have found that by Grade 4, vision changes may be noticeable enough to present a problem.
Teenagers need eye exams, too! Just as they experience growth spurts in their bodies, adolescents can experience growth spurts in their eyes. As a result, previous prescriptions may need to be updated several times before they become adults. Teenagers who have never had vision issues before may find that they suddenly can’t see. If your teen is complaining about blurry vision, headaches, and eye strain, even if they have already had an eye exam the previous year, they may need another one.
How often should adults have eye exams?
By the time puberty is over and your growth has leveled off, your vision should also stabilize. If you don’t notice any changes in vision, it is usually okay to reduce the frequency of trips to the optometrist. Of course, if you notice any vision issues you should follow up with your family physician or optometrist.
Healthy adults aged 19-40 should have a complete eye exam at least once every 10 years. During these exams, your OD will check your vision and look for signs of eye disease. During young adulthood, it’s rare for eye disease to be present, however if you display symptoms, your eye exam schedule will be adjusted accordingly.
Healthy adults with no risk factors, and who have not had any problems so far, should have an eye exam every 5 years. High risk individuals between the ages of 40-50 should have an eye exam every 3 years. If you are high risk and you’re over 50, you should have an eye exam every 2 years.
Who is high risk? Anyone with diabetes, a family history of eye-related health issues, or anyone who had displayed previous visual problems, could be considered high risk. Don’t panic, these measures are here to relieve your stress! By increasing the frequency of eye exams, you can ensure that if there is a problem it will be caught early. Early diagnosis is the key to successful treatment and management of eye diseases.
Pregnant or Nursing
If you are pregnant or nursing, you may notice sudden worsening of your visual acuity. This happens because of hormonal changes in the body, and it is very common. Thankfully, these vision changes are short-lived. Once you stop nursing, your eyes will usually return to normal.
Because your vision may be fluctuating daily, and it is a temporary condition anyway, you may be cautioned against updating your prescription during this time.
How often should seniors have eye exams?
Even if you are healthy and low-risk, as you get older, your eyes need more care. This is when presbyopia, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration, are more common.
While presbyopia is normal, and may slightly “improve” your vision if you’re just a little myopic, and cataracts are also common as you age, and can be corrected with surgery, some of the other eye diseases require more treatment. Because of these increased risks, eye exams will happen more frequently.
Low-risk patients between the ages of 56 and 65 should have an eye exam at least every 3 years. Once you reach 65, you should have an eye exam every two years, even if you are low-risk. Meanwhile, high risk patients between 50 and 60 should get checked every 2 years, and high risk patients over 60 should have an eye exam every year.
Let’s clear some things up…
You may have noticed that your prescription has an “expiry date,” but why? It’s not a food or medicine that can go bad once it’s past its prime. What’s the purpose of having it there?
Generic expiry dates should be regarded as suggested recall examination dates only, and not a prohibition from providing eyewear. Basically, the prescription expiry date can be taken as a suggestion that you come back in to have your eyes checked again.
A licensed optician is capable of dispensing corrective eyewear based on a prescription that is past its expiry date, within reason. If you are still asymptomatic since your last eye exam, and it’s within the guidelines listed above, your optician should be able to honour your prescription as long as there are no other health reasons for you to have a new eye exam first.
The ACAO Standards of Practice provides excellent guidelines for public safety and best practices. Registered Opticians (RO) and Registered Contact Lens Practitioners (RCLP) are bound to these Standards as members of the ACAO. Therefore, they are capable of determining when it is safe to dispense eyeglasses on outdated prescriptions.