It should have been a run-of-the-mill appointment. “My vision was getting blurrier, and it was becoming more difficult to focus,” says Patrick Thompson, 55, an engineer from Huntsville, Alabama. “It was quite aggravating.”
After giving Thompson a comprehensive dilated eye exam, his optometrist, Barbara Horn, adjusted his glasses prescription. She also found something else: “He had pigment-dispersion syndrome, in which the pigment from the iris flakes off and floats around in the eye.” PDS is a precursor for glaucoma, a leading causes of blindness in people 60 and older. “Thank goodness for his blurry vision, or we would never have known,” she adds.
Most of us assume it’s natural for our eyesight to go as we age — and that notion can be dangerous. “No one’s eyes just get ‘bad with age,’ and you don’t just lose vision without a reason for it,” says Douglas Wisner, M.D., an ophthalmologist at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. Meaning: Don’t accept blurriness, spots, flashes or floater s— get yourself checked out. “I urge anyone over 50 to get an annual checkup,” notes Charlotte Yeh, M.D., chief medical officer of AARP Services. “An annual dilated eye exam can help diagnose conditions like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration before they are severe.” Here are nine reasons to make eye checkups a priority.
1. There’s more to your eye than meets the eye
With dilation, drops added to the eye widen the pupil, allowing your doctor to view the inside of the eye — including the retina, lens and optic nerve — and look for age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and melanomas. “Examining an undilated eye is like looking through a keyhole into a room. Dilation opens the door completely, so you can see all the corners of the room,” says optometrist Laura Di Meglio, an instructor at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore.
2. Eyes are a window into your health
“The eye is the only place in the body where you can directly visualize nerves and blood vessels,” Wisner explains. Eye doctors scan your eye for signs of hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes — and can sometimes be the first to detect a problem. “Heart disease still remains one of the biggest causes of morbidity and mortality in our country, and if we pick up on it early enough, we can get on top of it and prevent damage,” he says.