I am often a little surprised when I have a patient in my chair who tells me that he or she has never had an eye exam, EVER!!! This happens about once a week and they are usually adult patients. Once I get past my shock and horror, I remember that unlike me, some people, were blessed with crystal clear vision and comfortable eyes. These lucky people often come in because a friend or relative suggested it or they have some kind of redness or irritation. As a moderately nearsighted dry eye sufferer, even if I weren’t an eye doctor, the idea that some people live their lives without ever getting an eye exam would still baffle me.
Since I am an eye doctor and have sworn an oath to put the health of my patients first, I like to remind people that an eye exam is about more than just glasses or contact lenses. Improving vision w/ corrective lenses is a large part of what I do but most of my time everyday is spent explaining ocular health problems, issues, or concerns with my patients. At least once a day, i see someone with signs of systemic disease present in the eye. I often see patients because they have diabetes, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, HIV, cancer, and many other conditions. At these medical eye exam visits I have to determine if, and how severely, their systemic disease is affecting their eye health and vision. Many systemic conditions and the medications that treat them can wreak havoc on the eyes and part of my job is to check for these things. I have also diagnosed some systemic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, through doing a “routine” eye exam because the patient thought he or she needed new glasses. Since routine exams include ocular health assessments as well, I have still been able to determine that their vision changes are due to something more serious than nearsightedness or farsightedness.
This time of year is usually when we all make resolutions and set goals. One of the most common is to improve our health. If you are one of these fortunate individuals who hasn’t “needed” an eye exam before, I encourage you to see an eye doctor this year. Doing so could be the first step in improving your overall health and if nothing else, you may just leave with a sweet pair of sunglasses. 😎
Dr. Valerie Arnold, O.D.