What is a dilated eye exam? | Rare Techy
If you’ve been putting off getting your annual eye exam, now is as good a time as any! Learn more about this test and why it is so important.
Why do an eye exam?
Getting an eye exam is an important part of your regular health care plan. Eye exams help detect eye problems such as glaucoma, cataracts, blurred vision, and age-related macular degeneration.
But eye exams are not limited to detecting eye problems. An old saying goes “eyes are the window to the soul” and when it comes to health, the eyes can also reveal potential health problems. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), an eye exam can detect a variety of health problems. These include:
- An aneurysm is a swelling in the wall of a blood vessel.
- A brain tumor, which can cause swelling in the back of the eyes or changes in vision.
- Giant cell arteritis, inflammation of the arteries in the head, can lead to vision loss if left untreated.
- Heart disease indicates signs of a stroke in the eye.
- High blood pressure causes the blood vessels in the back of the eye to bend or bleed.
- High cholesterol indicates a yellow or blue ring around the cornea or cholesterol deposits in the retina.
- Multiple sclerosis refers to inflammation of the optic nerve.
- Rheumatoid arthritis refers to dry eye and inflammation of the sclera, the thin white outer layer of the eye.
- Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that affects many organs in the body. Inflammation of the iris, called the iris, may be a sign of this condition.
- A stroke, retinal blood vessel blockages can cause blind spots or the sensation of a curtain falling over the vision.
- Thyroid disease, which can lead to swollen eyeballs or dry eyes, blurred vision, or vision loss.
- Diabetic retinopathy Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that damages the blood vessels in the retina, which can lead to vision loss and blindness.
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Of course, not all health problems can be detected with an eye exam, and the above symptoms do not necessarily mean you have a specific problem. But getting an eye exam can help determine the health of not only your eyes, but your entire body.
How often should you have an eye exam?
The AAO recommends that adults have an eye exam once in their 20s and twice in their 30s. Once you reach your 40s, you should have an eye exam every five to 10 years. Older adults should usually have an eye exam every one to two years. You may need more frequent eye exams if you have a family history of eye disease, if you’ve had eye surgery or an eye injury, or if you wear glasses or contact lenses.
If you have diabetes, the frequency of eye exams will also be different. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with type 1 diabetes have a complete eye exam within five years of diagnosis. People with type 2 diabetes should have an eye exam once diagnosed. After that, everyone with diabetes should have a complete eye exam at least once a year, and if there are any problems.
Why is an eye exam so important for people with diabetes?
Your healthcare provider or diabetes care team may have strongly recommended that you have an annual diabetic eye exam (sometimes called a dilated or comprehensive eye exam) every year, and possibly more often. One of the main reasons for this recommendation is that people with diabetes are at risk for a serious complication called diabetic retinopathy.
According to the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that causes vision loss and blindness in people with diabetes. It affects the blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of your eye).
Getting an annual eye exam can help catch diabetic retinopathy early — even before you start experiencing symptoms. Diabetic retinopathy can also lead to other serious problems:
- Diabetic macular edema, in which blood vessels in the retina leak into the macula, blurring vision.
- Neovascular glaucoma, in which abnormal blood vessels grow from the retina and block fluid from draining from the eye, leading to glaucoma.
- Retinal detachment, in which scarring from retinopathy pulls the retina away from the back of the eye.
According to the Joslin Diabetes Center, there are treatments for diabetic retinopathy, but the earlier it is diagnosed, the more effective treatment is at preventing vision loss. That’s why annual comprehensive eye exams are so important for people with diabetes.
What happens during a comprehensive eye exam?
NEI says comprehensive eye exams are simple and painless. During the exam, your eye doctor will check for vision problems, perform some eye tests, and give you eye drops to dilate or dilate your pupils. Once your pupils are dilated, the doctor can look at the back of your eyes and check for retinopathy, macular edema, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration.
Dilation can last several hours, so it may be a good idea to have someone drive you home. Your eye doctor may give you disposable sunglasses to help reduce glare, but driving can still be challenging.
Rarely, side effects from eye drops can cause nausea, vomiting, or eye or head pain that requires immediate medical attention. The benefits of having a comprehensive eye exam outweigh the risks, however, this test can allow you to detect eye problems early and receive treatment before they get worse.
Most health plans also cover the cost of an annual exam. If you haven’t had your annual eye exam yet, why are you waiting? Call today to schedule it!
Want to learn more about keeping your eyes healthy with diabetes? Read “Diabetes Eye Tests: What to Know,” “Eat for Better Vision and Healthy Eyes,” “Keep Your Eyes Healthy,” and see “Diabetes and Your Eyes.”