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Mr David Allamby
MD, FRCOphth, FRCS
Typically, optometrists and ophthalmologists recommend that most people go for an eye health check-up at least once every two years.
The value of a regularly scheduled eye examination extends far beyond simply identifying a need for vision correction. In fact, periodic check-ups can also be useful in helping to diagnose other common medical conditions, both visual and more general.
Regular examinations are especially important if you have any history of eye problems in your family, as some – like glaucoma, for instance – can have a hereditary element.
It’s also wise to increase the frequency of your regularly scheduled check-ups as you get older:
In addition, here are ten key signs that it’s time to book yourself an eye test and a trip to the doctor:
This one may seem obvious, but we’re putting it first because it’s important: ANY sudden onset of vision loss, blockage or occlusion could be medically significant and requires the immediate attention of a qualified doctor for a diagnosis.
As in the above scenario, if you experience any sudden or dramatic changes in your eyesight quality – seeing double (when sober!), for example – then you should seek medical attention at the earliest opportunity. Once again, it’s important to inform your examiner of any recent head injuries that immediately preceded a visual complication.
Not all sudden vision changes will be a result of a medical emergency; they can indicate anything from problems with the cornea to complications arising from conditions such as:
Either way, if the effects develop over an abbreviated period of time, it’s important to get a qualified diagnosis as soon as you can.
This extremely common eye-related complaint causes issues for millions of people every year – unfortunately, it’s one of the universal symptoms of natural degeneration in our vision as we age. (Once again, as with all prominent changes to your eyesight, if it occurs very suddenly then it’s important to seek medical attention right away).
A huge number of us experience some degree of difficulty in focusing at certain distances, be it extremely close-up or very far away. The range of distances you struggle with, and the extent to which you have to modify your approach to tasks, will vary greatly from person to person depending on a wide variety of factors and causes.
An inconsistency of focus is another common sign that it’s time to get your eyes tested:
If you’re experiencing more frequent headaches when doing tasks that require concentrated vision focus, consider whether you might be squinting more than usual to ‘manually’ adjust focus, and raise the issue with your eye care professional at your next visit.
And, speaking of headaches…
It should go without saying that any extreme or very frequent vision-related physical discomfort (nausea, dizziness, eye pain) must be investigated just as you would any other obvious medical issue: with a visit to your GP at the first opportunity.
However, occasional but recurrent lower-level headaches, as well as a host of other physical symptoms relating to eye strain, could indicate that the muscles in your eyes have weakened, and are being forced to work overtime to keep up.
Other signs of generalised macular degeneration – something of an umbrella term, but typically used to refer to a deterioration in the functioning of the central retina – include various sorts of visual distortion:
Corrective measures such as glasses or laser surgery can compensate brilliantly in these sorts of situations, and alleviate many of the symptoms we commonly experience when we’re pushing our eyes to work harder than their natural condition allows for.
If it’s your eyes themselves – as opposed to, say, discomfort from headaches – which are causing you physical discomfort, then it’s important to get them checked out as soon as you can.
There are many reasons why your eyes might ache or feel scratchy; most will likely be fatigue- or strain-related, and can be brought on by activities as mundane as reading from a computer screen for extended periods.
It’s always worth getting physical eye discomfort checked out as early as you can, though, and especially if you’ve had any persistent discomfort for more than 2-3 days at a time – this can be a sign of an underlying infection or condition which needs sorting out quickly before it worsens.
In addition, any very sharp or sudden pain should be treated as a pressing medical issue.
Any sensation of excessive pressure in one or both eyes is another good reason to seek a qualified diagnosis promptly:
Again, this is a common scenario in which many people first realise their vision could do with a tune-up:
Furthermore, trouble adjusting to sudden changes in light intensity can be a sign of weakening muscles in the structure of the eye, which is also an inevitable consequence of ageing:
Visual disruptions like ‘floaters’ – the black or clear dust-like specks we often see drifting across the surface of our eyes, which move away when we try to focus on them – are extremely common, and can be worsened or relieved by all manner of factors (tiredness and lack of sufficient humidity, for instance).
People who suffer from migraines often report increased visual disruptions before, during or after an episode:
Pregnancy and other physical changes related to hormonal imbalance can also cause noticeable visual and eye effects, including:
Any unusual discharge from the eye, or an obvious discolouration in or around the eye area, should always be referred to a doctor for a further medical diagnosis.
So there are the nine signs you need an eye check-up. Don’t forget that typically, optometrists and ophthalmologists recommend that most people go for an eye check-up at least once every two years.
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