Last Updated: March 29, 2023
Why is a comprehensive eye exam so important?
Many serious eye conditions may not have obvious symptoms. Some eye diseases only show symptoms when the condition is advanced and difficult, or even impossible, to treat. A comprehensive eye exam provides the full assurance of vision and eye health. It is important to note that sight tests and school vision screening are not sufficient and do not replace routine comprehensive eye exams performed by an optometrist. A sight test can only determine a lens power by relying on a combination of computerized tests using automated equipment. These automated sight tests are not comprehensive or accurate and do little, if anything to determine the health of your and your child’s eyes.
Optometrists diagnose, treat and help prevent diseases and disorders affecting the visual system (the eye and related structures). Optometrists also assist in identifying general health conditions that are often first detected through a comprehensive eye exam, provide referrals to specialists and can help manage post-eye-surgery health. From infants to seniors, optometrists provide care to help maintain good vision, eye health and quality of life.
Optometrists evaluate many factors that can affect your vision and eye health. During a comprehensive exam, the optometrist assess the case history, quality of vision, external health of the eyes, internal health of your eyes, ability of the eyes to adjust focus, eye movement, eye coordination, and peripheral vision. In addition, colour vision and depth perception may also be evaluated. If a problem is detected, treatment and management options will be provided accordingly, such as with glasses, contact lenses, exercise, medication or surgery.
If you don’t already have an optometrist, you don’t need a referral to book a comprehensive eye exam. Find an optometrist near you and call for your appointment today.
Think of an eye exam as a physical for your eyes. Eye exams can detect eye diseases and disorders such as glaucoma, cataracts, retinal detachments and macular degeneration, and other health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and brain tumors.
Recommended comprehensive eye exam frequencies
Infants and toddlers
Newborns have all the ocular structures necessary to see, although these are not yet fully developed. At birth, infants can see blurred patterns of light and dark.
Visual abilities play a big role in early child development. It is recommended for an infant’s first eye exam to be between the ages of six and nine months.
During the first four months, their visual horizon expands from a few centimetres to many metres. Their vision becomes more clear, and their ability to see colour develops. Their two eyes start working together. By four months of age, an infant’s colour vision is similar to an adult’s. By six months, they acquire eye movement control and develop eye-hand coordination skills.
Within the first six months after birth, an infant’s eyes may appear slightly crossed or out of alignment. However, if the eyes appear significantly crossed or remain misaligned after six months of age, contact your optometrist without delay. The infant may have strabismus, commonly known as crossed eyes, a condition that requires treatment with glasses, contact lenses, vision therapy, or surgery. If not corrected, the ignored eye will become unable to function normally and will become largely unused. This may result in the development of lazy eye.
Lazy eye, also known as amblyopia, is another condition that becomes apparent within the first six months of the baby’s life. This condition describes weak vision or vision loss in one or both eyes as a result of an uncorrected prescription, crossed eyes or congenital cataracts. It is important to detect and treat lazy eye at an early age. Treating lazy eye before eight years of age may oftentimes lead to improvement or full resolution. Treatment options include glasses, contact lenses, vision therapy, patching, and surgery. If left untreated, amblyopia can lead to blindness in the affected eye.
Between the ages of two and five years, children should have at least one other eye exam.
At this age, it’s important for a child to develop good hand-eye coordination and depth perception. There are activities that can help improve these essential visual skills, such as playing with building blocks or balls of any shape and size.
Children at age two enjoy listening to and telling stories. This helps to develop their visualization skills and skills for learning to read. At this stage, toddlers also like to paint, draw, colour, sort items, and assemble pieces. These activities are all integral to their visual development.
A preschooler’s eyes are not ready for prolonged or intense concentration at short distances. It is important to take regular breaks from near work and screen use.
Keep an eye out for symptoms that may indicate vision and eye health concerns in child. If you notice any of these symptoms, book a comprehensive eye exam with your optometrist without delay.
- red, itchy or watering eyes
- sensitivity to light
- one eye that consistently turns in or out
- squinting, rubbing the eyes, or excessive blinking
- a lack of concentration
- covering or closing one eye
- irritability or short attention span
- holding objects too close
- avoiding books and television
- visible frustration or grimacing
School-age children should have a comprehensive eye exam every twelve months until the age of 19.
The visual demands of a school-aged child is constant in the classroom and at play. For school-age children, several different visual skills must work together so they can see and understand clearly.
If any of these visual skills are lacking or impaired, the child will need to work harder and may develop headaches or fatigue. Often the increased visual demands of schoolwork can make greater demands on a child’s visual skills, revealing a vision problem that was not apparent before school. Children may express or realize they have a vision problem – they may simply assume everyone sees the way they do.
A vision-related problem may cause some of the symptoms described below:
- headaches or irritability
- avoidance of near or distance work
- covering or rubbing of the eyes
- tilting of the head or unusual posture
- using a finger to maintain place while reading
- losing place while reading
- omitting or confusing words when reading
- performing below their potential
Conditions that may emerge during this stage in the child’s life include myopia or nearsightedness (blurred vision when seeing objects at a distance), hyperopia or farsightedness (blurred vision when seeing objects up close), and astigmatism (distorted vision at all distances). It is important to take regular breaks from near work and screen use. Spending time outdoors has protective effects for preventing the onset of myopia in children.
Protect your child’s vision. If you notice any of these symptoms, book an eye exam with an optometrist. Infants should have a comprehensive eye exam between six and nine months of age. Children should have at least one eye exam between the ages of two and five, and yearly after starting school.
For adults, regular eye exams are an important part of maintaining overall health and making good vision last a lifetime. Without an eye exam, critical health issues can be overlooked. Adults aged 20 to 64 should have a comprehensive eye exam at least every two years. Adults with diabetes should have an exam at least once a year. Other health conditions assessed by your optometrist may warrant more frequent partial or comprehensive eye examinations.
The eyes change with age. In particular, people over the age of 40 may be at an increased risk for age-related eye conditions. Some of these eye conditions may have no visible symptoms until the condition is advanced and difficult, or impossible, to treat.
Your eyes are the windows to your overall health. Eye exams can uncover underlying and life-threatening health issues, such as a stroke, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, some cancers, brain injuries, and neurological conditions.
The most common eye problems among adults include:
- Presbyopia: a natural effect of aging in which the ability to focus on close objects decreases over time. Presbyopia can cause headaches, blurred vision, sore eyes, and the need for more light.
- Cataracts: distorted or cloudy vision caused by the lens inside the eye losing its transparency over time. Treatment options include getting updated glasses or surgical removal. Wearing UV protective glasses helps to delay the onset and progression of cataracts.
- Diabetic Retinopathy: a weakening of the tiny blood vessels in the back of the eye due to uncontrolled blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. It results in bleeding, growth of new abnormal blood vessels, and swelling of the retina, leading to vision changes. If left untreated, blindness may result.
- Age-related Macular degeneration: degenerative changes to the back of the eye affecting central vision. It is the leading cause of vision loss among older adults.
- Glaucoma: also known as the “silent thief” of vision as it often has no visual symptoms until significant damage has occurred. It causes damage to the nerve tissue at the back of the eye which is often linked to increased eye pressure. If not detected and treated at an early stage, irreversible vision loss may result.
At age 65 and older, adults should have an eye exam at least once a year.
Adults aged 65 or older are at a higher risk of acquiring the vision conditions mentioned above. They are also at higher risk of developing low vision, characterized by very limited sight that, without addressing, might interfere with a person’s ability to perform activities of daily living.
Early identification and treatment of conditions that can often have no visible symptoms is key to protecting your sight.