by Dr. Elizabeth DiStefano

You’ve probably heard the saying “the eyes are the window to the soul,” but what about the saying “your eyes are the window to your overall health?” During a comprehensive eye exam your eye doctor can evaluate the health of blood vessels in your retina, which are an excellent predictor of how the blood vessels throughout the rest of your body look.  Many systemic diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, can be detected by changes in your retinal blood vessels before other symptoms arise. Other vision-threatening conditions, such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, can only be detected during a comprehensive eye exam. Many of these conditions start slowly, with no symptoms, and can cause significant vision loss before you even realize there is a problem.  Early detection is vitally important to keep your vision clear and your eyes healthy.

Although children don’t typically have as many health problems as adults, it is equally important for them to have routine eye exams. It is estimated that 80 percent of everything children learn in and out of the classroom is visual.  A child who cannot see the board or focus on the small print of their homework can become easily frustrated and distracted, which can lead to bad grades and disciplinary problems at school. Similar to adults, some pediatric vision problems like amblyopia and strabismus, more commonly known as lazy eye, are best treated if they are corrected early, while the child’s vision system is still developing.

Even babies as young as six months can have routine eye exams. These exams are typically covered with Medicaid or other vision insurance plans. For those without insurance who may struggle to afford the cost of a doctor’s visit, ask your provider whether they offer a sliding fee discount program. Programs of this nature are available in the marketplace to support the goal of ensuring that eye care becomes part of an infant wellness regimen for all children.

While vision screenings at the doctor’s office and the Department of Motor Vehicles are great tools to catch some vision problems, they are no substitute for a comprehensive eye exam from your optometrist or ophthalmologist. The American Optometric Association recommends routine exams on the following schedule:

  • Between six months and one-year-old
  • At least once between three and five-years-old
  • Before first grade, then annually until age 18
  • At least every two years for ages 18 to 64
  • At least annually over age 65

Please take the time to schedule yourself an appointment today.

Dr. Elizabeth DiStefano is an optometrist with Valley Health Systems, Inc. For more information, click here.