Routine eye exams are an important aspect in maintaining one's overall health. As with an annual physical or dental exam, it is extremely important to have your eyes examined regularly. Regardless of how great your eyesight is, scheduling regular eye exams is the best way to stay on top of your overall health.
While eye exams are important for one's vision and unsuspecting problems like eye coordination issues, lazy eye and dyslexia, routine eye exams can also help to identify a variety of systemic health problems. Since the eye is an extension of the brain and the only part of the body where blood vessels and tissue are visible, the eye exam test results give Dr. Kubota the ability to detect the warning signs of different systemic health problems. Some of these health problems include diabetes, which can present as bleeding or swelling in parts of the retina, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, brain tumors, that may cause swelling of the optic nerve, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders. For example, Hypertensive Retinopathy (High blood pressure eye problems) and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) will show in the Optomap retinal scan as the hardened arteries put pressure on the veins beneath them, making the veins become narrow or bent. When the vessels become blocked, strokes in the arteries and/or veins of the retina can occur and permanent loss of vision can result. These are also warnings of a major impending stroke and getting the blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control can prolong a person's life. So catching the warning signs in the eyes early can prevent vision loss and more severe medical consequences.
Skin cancer on the eyelid is another health risk as the eyelid is very sensitive to ultraviolet rays and may be one of the first places affected by different types of skin cancers. Any suspicious spots or areas need to be biopsied and/or treated before the skin cancer can spread to other parts of the body.
There are also several progressive eye diseases that do not have outwards symptoms like pain, so there are no obvious warning signs to the patient:
Glaucoma is the buildup of pressure within the eye that causes damage to the optic nerve and if left untreated, can lead to complete loss of vision. Glaucoma is a chronic, progressive eye disease that doesn't show any symptoms or pain in the initial stages.
Macular degeneration is an eye condition that if left untreated, can causes damage to the retina and devastating central vision loss.
Retinal tears and detachments can occur at any age in the peripheral retina resulting in partial or total vision loss. There is absolutely no warning pain and the risk goes up in people with past head or eye injuries, advancing age and nearsightedness.
From age 5, everyone should have an eye exam every year to make sure that their eyes are healthy and their vision issues are addressed so they do not fall behind in school or at work. Sometimes eye exams are needed more frequently if patients have rapid vision changes or have been diagnosed with unstable health issues such as diabetes, amblyopia, uveitis, thyroid disease or some eye injuries. Dr. Kubota will recommend a frequency for routine follow-up exams based on the patient’s medical history and the results of their eye exam. For instance, a diabetic patient may need an Optomap retinal scan or dilated fundus exam several times a year to check on the health of their retina if diabetic retinopathy is detected.
Contact lens wearers also need exams every year to make sure that there are no signs of damage to the cornea and to look for other changes that might affect lens fit and eye health. Adults older than 60 should definitely have an eye exam each year, as age-related eye problems are more common.
Vision changes can have a profound effect on a person’s day-to-day life, but early treatments can help to slow or stop vision loss and regular eye exams can help ensure a lifetime of clear sight.