Most of us get our car serviced annually to make sure it runs smoothly. We also visit a dentist regularly to get our teeth cleaned. But how many of us get our eyes checked each year?
Many people don’t see an eye doctor until we notice a change in our vision—a street sign looks blurry, or we have trouble reading the words in our favorite book. But an annual eye exam can also detect changes in your overall health.
In addition to detecting vision changes, regular eye exams can also detect glaucoma, diabetes, and even life-threatening conditions like a brain tumor.
That’s what Randy Lee, O.D., owner and lead optometrist at the Optometric Center in Boise, Idaho, discovered in one patient during a routine annual eye exam.
“The patient came in for his annual eye exam and said he couldn’t see as well in his left eye,” said Dr. Lee. “His right eye was fine, but when I looked in his left eye the optic nerve was swollen.”
Dr. Lee tested the patient’s peripheral vision, and found it was worse as well. “I decided to take a picture of his left eye using retinal photography,” Dr. Lee said. “I saw blurriness in the eye, which was caused by the optic nerve swelling and damaging the patient’s vision.”
Realizing this could be a sign of a tumor, Dr. Lee referred the patient to his primary care doctor. Additional tests found that the patient had a benign brain tumor, which was removed.
“I’m so glad we caught the brain tumor in the early stages,” Dr. Lee said. “Had it gotten worse, it would have caused major damage to the patient’s vision, and other health problems.”
It’s important to have your eyecare provider and primary care doctor work as a team to detect any health changes, Dr. Lee said.
“People should think of their vision as part of their overall health,” he said. “You should use your optometrist, along with your primary care doctor, to monitor overall health conditions.”
For his patient who had the brain tumor, Dr. Lee now checks his optic nerve during his annual eye exam to make sure the tumor hasn’t returned.
Dr. Lee also said it’s important to see the same eyecare provider each year. “This lets the doctor get familiar with your visual history, which can help him notice changes in your eyes more easily,” he said.