Check Out Those Eyes

When’s a good time to go for an eye exam? How about right now? Consider this: 250,000 Canadians are walking around with glaucoma this very moment. And half of them, 125,000 people, don’t even know they have it. These people are losing vision, but won’t figure it out until it’s too late to recover what they’ve lost.

Glaucoma isn’t the only disease that can be present in your eyes without symptoms. You can also have AMD (age-related macular degeneration), the leading cause of significant vision loss in Canadians over 50, without being aware of it. Other eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy can progress rapidly if left untreated for long. It’s a risky business, eye disease, and the consequences can be devastating.

Your best defense? A regular eye exam. Just as your body needs a routine physical exam, your eyes most definitely need a regular checkup too.

How Often Should I Go?

There is no single recommended frequency for eye exams. The ideal frequency varies from person to person, based on your risk factors. You have a higher risk of developing vision loss if you

  • Are over 50
  • Have a family history of eye disease, or an existing eye condition
  • Have light-coloured eyes and skin
  • Are diabetic
  • Are overweight or in poor physical health
  • Smoke cigarettes

If you don’t think you have risk factors, it doesn’t mean you are off the hook for eye exams though. People of any age, and in perfectly good health, develop eye disease too. Look at it this way: it certainly can’t hurt if you err on the side of going more frequently.

So consult your eye doctor to determine what frequency is best for you.

Don’t Forget a Self-Exam

In addition to your regular eye exams, there is also a great AMD self-exam you can do at home, called the Amsler Grid.

The Amsler Grid can be used by anyone, but it is particularly good for people over 50 or with other risk factors for AMD (if you fall into this category, consider doing the test on a daily basis). It’s fast, it’s free, and it might just save you from developing wet AMD, which can progresses quickly. You can learn how to use the grid and print out a copy from CNIB’s website.

Something Funny Going On?

In addition to your regular schedule of eye exams, you should also make an appointment to see your eye doctor right away if you notice anything unusual with your vision.

If you detect any blurriness, distortion, sudden eye pain, wavy lines in your vision, or anything out of the ordinary, make an appointment as soon as you can. The cliché could never be more appropriate: It is better to be safe than sorry, especially where your vision is concerned.

Am I Covered?

In Canada, eye-care coverage varies by province and territory, but the majority of the provinces cover routine eye exams for children, teenagers, and people over 65. (Does CNIB think eye exams should be covered for everyone? You bet.) Some provinces also cover exams when they are considered medically necessary (if you sustain an eye injury, for example, or have a significant risk factor for eye disease) or for people on low incomes.

Don’t forget, too, that if you have a company health plan, it may cover some or all of the cost of routine eye exams.

But whether you are covered or not, an eye exam is one of those things you can’t afford not to have.