Making sure your eyes stay as healthy as possible at every age, from childhood all the way through the senior years, is about a lot more than making sure you have clear vision. It’s also about making sure the structures of your eyes – the retina, cornea, optic nerve and other structures – are in good shape so they can function the way they’re supposed to. And it’s also about looking for signs of diseases that can cause permanent vision loss if not caught and corrected early.
While vision exams at school, work and other locations may help identify basic issues affecting your vision – like problems seeing near or far or blurriness when reading, for instance – they’re no substitute for a comprehensive eye exam. Yet every year, millions of Americans rely on vision screenings to maintain eye health – and that can be a serious mistake. Here’s what you should know about the benefits and the pitfalls of vision screenings:
First, it’s important to understand that a vision screening isn’t nearly as inclusive as a comprehensive eye exam with dilation – nor is it meant to be. The purpose of a vision exam isn’t to diagnose eye diseases and conditions, nor is it to recommend treatment options; the purpose of a vision screening is to help spot vision issues, like the simple ones mentioned earlier, by looking for obvious signs so you can be referred to an eye care provider who can determine what’s causing those problems.
As an initial “early warning” system for some types of refractive vision loss like myopia, a vision screening can serve an important function, especially in certain settings like schools where undiagnosed vision problems can lead to problems with performance in the classroom and in extracurricular activities like sports. Children also tend not to see the eye doctor as frequently as they should, so a vision screening can play an important role in ensuring children who need care get it as soon as possible.
Health fairs are also popular places for vision screenings since their goal is to reach a broad population who may be underserved or simply not aware of the potential health risks they face. Most motor vehicle agencies also offer vision screening services for men and women seeking licenses. And many workplaces also offer vision screenings as part of an overall wellness initiative.
NOW, THE PITFALLS
In all the cases mentioned earlier, vision screening can be an important tool in ensuring people with some types of readily detectable vision loss get the care they need to prevent additional vision loss and to see more clearly. But despite those benefits, relying on a vision screening for all your evaluation needs is a big mistake. Remember – vision screenings are just looking for more obvious signs of vision loss, not the subtler signs that can be difficult to detect without the technology available at an eye doctor’s office. That means some types of vision loss are going to be overlooked, leaving you or your child with less-than-perfect vision.
Even worse, diseases that can affect both vision and eye health cannot be detected by the methods used in vision screening. As a result, people who pass their vision screening with “flying colors” can still be suffering from very serious vision issues like glaucoma or macular degeneration that can only be detected by an eye doctor – and which typically don’t cause any symptoms until permanent vision loss has already occurred. In essence, “passing” a vision screening can instill a feeling of false confidence by unintentionally sending a message that since the screening went well, there’s no need for additional evaluation or care – even though serious issues may actually be present.
What’s more, vision screenings are often performed by people with very limited training in eye health, using very basic equipment that was never designed to provide precise vision measurements. Plus, screenings often are performed under varying circumstances and varying lighting conditions, which means the results are more likely to be less accurate and reliable than a comprehensive vision exam performed in a doctor’s office.
ARE VISION SCREENINGS BAD?
They’re not bad, per se, as long as you’re well aware of their limitations. And they’re certainly no substitute for having routine comprehensive eye exams – at least every one to three years, depending on your age and risk factors. The key is to take the results of a vision screening for their true value – as a very basic assessment of your most basic vision data, and not as a diagnostic tool capable of providing complete information about your vision, your eye health or the presence of any diseases or risk factors that require prompt medical attention.
So, be screened if you like. But just be sure to continue to see your eye doctor regularly, no matter what the results of your screening reveal. If you haven’t had a comprehensive eye exam recently, call our office today at (888) 701-7487 and schedule your evaluation. Better eye health is just one phone call away.