Written by: Steven M. Brady, DO
Vision is one of the most important senses we have. Without it, everyday tasks become difficult and sometimes impossible. Even small vision changes may impact your quality of life. One way to maintain optimal eye health is to see an ophthalmologist or an eye doctor regularly. Regular check-ups with your ophthalmologist may help catch any vision changes or problems early and give you the best chance for successful treatment.
What Is an Ophthalmologist?
Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in treating all levels of eye-related disorders, from refractive disorders to complex eye conditions requiring surgical intervention. Ophthalmologists attend four years of medical school as well as an intensive one-year internship in various medical specialties.
This training is followed by three years of ophthalmology specialty training in an accredited ophthalmology residency. After residency training, some ophthalmologists are selected for advanced programs called fellowships. Fellowships involve very specific medical and surgical training that further expands the ability to handle complex eye conditions and diseases.
Some of the conditions an ophthalmologist may treat include:
- Cornea problems
- Autoimmune conditions of the eye
- Retinal detachment
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Macular degeneration
- Melanoma of the eye
What Is an Optometrist?
People often confuse ophthalmologists with optometrists. While both provide eye care, they are each unique and have their own set of skills. An optometrist is a health care professional who provides routine vision care, such as prescribing glasses or contact lenses and conducting vision tests.
Optometrists are also trained to detect certain eye conditions and may prescribe treatments, such as vision therapy or medications. However, If you have an eye problem that requires surgical or more complex treatment, an optometrist will often work alongside your ophthalmologist to provide comprehensive eye care.
When Should You See an Ophthalmologist?
The frequency of your visits to an ophthalmologist will depend on many factors, such as your age, health history, and whether you have any vision problems. In addition, people with risk factors for certain eye diseases or conditions may need to see an eye doctor more often.
Some common risk factors include:
- Family history of eye disease
- High blood pressure
- Autoimmune conditions
- Eye trauma
If you are not experiencing any symptoms or vision changes, it is generally recommended to have an eye exam every two to four years. However, if you are over 60, have a family history of eye disease, or have any of the above risk factors, you may need to see an ophthalmologist more frequently. Your ophthalmologist will let you know how often you should schedule an appointment.
What to Expect During an Ophthalmology Appointment
During your appointment, your eye doctor will conduct a comprehensive eye exam. This may be done with or without dilation depending on several factors, including your age and reason for the visit. They may also ask about your medical history and any vision changes or problems you have been experiencing.
In addition to testing your vision, the ophthalmologist will measure the pressure in your eyes and check for signs of glaucoma. They will also examine the front and back of your eyes, looking for any signs of disease or damage. After the exam, the ophthalmologist will discuss any findings and recommend a treatment plan or follow-up care, if necessary. They will also answer any questions you may have about your eyes or vision.
Types of Eye Tests
When visiting an eye doctor, you can expect to undergo a number of different tests. These tests help assess your vision and check for any eye problems or diseases. Some of the most common tests include:
Visual Acuity Test
When you think of an eye exam, this is probably the first test that comes to mind. The visual acuity test is one of the most basic and is used to measure your level of vision. During this test, you may be asked to read from an eye chart known as the Snellen chart.
The Snellen chart uses a series of letters, numbers, or symbols of different sizes to measure how well you see at various distances. The test is usually done one eye at a time and requires you to stand 20 feet (or six meters) away from the chart.
Eye Muscle Test
The eye muscle test is used to assess how well your eyes move. During this test, the ophthalmologist will ask you to follow an object, such as a pen, with your eyes. They will also check your ability to move your eyes in different directions. This test is important because it may help diagnose conditions affecting the muscles or nerves that control eye movement.
These conditions include:
- Strabismus (eye turn)
- Amblyopia (lazy eye)
- Nystagmus (involuntary eye movement)
The refraction assessment determines whether you need glasses, contact lenses, or refractive surgery. During this test, the eye doctor will place different lenses in front of your eyes using a phoropter and ask you which is clearer.
A phoropter is a machine with different lenses of varying strengths that are used during an eye exam. Your eye doctor will use the phoropter to find the combination of lenses that gives you the clearest vision. They will then prescribe glasses or contacts with the correct lens strength. In some cases, refractive surgery, such as LASIK, may be recommended to correct your vision.
Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the optic nerve, which transmits information from your eyes to your brain to generate visual images, is damaged. This damage is usually caused by high pressure in the eye, which may lead to vision loss or even blindness.
Regular eye exams are important because glaucoma often has no symptoms in the early stages. The best way to detect glaucoma is through a comprehensive eye exam. During a glaucoma screening, your eye doctor will measure the pressure in your eyes and check for any damage to the optic nerve.
Make Your Next Eye Appointment at Cascade Eye & Skin Centers
When it comes to your vision, don’t wait for problems to arise – make sure to schedule regular appointments with an ophthalmologist. At Cascade Eye & Skin Centers, we will work with you to ensure you have the best vision possible. If you’re due for an eye exam or are experiencing vision problems, contact us today.