How to Keep Your Vision Healthy

Female at an eye exam

Even though the eyes mostly take care of themselves, having a comprehensive eye exam can check for common eye diseases and find any problems before they become serious.

Our eyes are working for us every minute of the day that we’re awake, and yet they require very little maintenance. They have a handy built-in cleaning system (when you blink) and keep themselves lubricated with tears.

Even though the eyes mostly take care of themselves, there is one very important thing you should do to keep your vision healthy. Having a comprehensive eye exam can identify eye diseases and find any problems before they become serious.

Most people should have a comprehensive eye exam every two years, says Mark Leipert, a doctor of optometry and co-owner of Optical Expressions in Berlin. “If your health is good and there is nothing else that we’re watching, every two years is considered the normal routine time for an eye exam,” he says. Some patients may need annual exams, or even more frequent visits, if they have a condition that needs to be monitored, he adds.

What Is a Comprehensive Eye Exam?

You are probably familiar with the visual acuity test, where you are asked to read letters and numbers on an eye chart to check your vision. If you have trouble seeing the type, you may be prescribed corrective lenses to help you see better.

A comprehensive eye exam includes the visual acuity test, but also has several other tests. “A comprehensive eye exam gets into the whole health of the eyes. We’re looking at the functional health of the eye,” says Dr. Leipert. That includes checking pupil function and color vision, movement of eye muscles, and the condition of the retina and optic nerve.

An eye exam can find problems that are affecting your vision. “On a daily basis, we screen lots of diabetic patients. We see floaters in people’s eyes, we find retinal detachments and cataracts,” says Dr. Leipert. Dry eye is another major issue that can be identified during an eye exam, he says.

Preventing Eye Problems

A comprehensive eye exam will make sure you are seeing everything clearly, but its biggest benefit is preventing eye problems.

In the early stages, eye diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration don’t have any symptoms or pain. If they continue to develop without treatment, they can damage your retina and your optic nerve. This damage may lead to vision loss or blindness and cannot be reversed.

An eye exam can spot problems while they are still treatable. “If you can catch these things early, you can prevent many of these problems and nip them in the bud,” says Dr. Leipert.

Diabetes Can Cause Blindness

If you have diabetes, it is especially important to have a comprehensive eye exam to keep your eyes healthy. People with diabetes may get an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy, where high blood sugar levels cause blood vessels in the eye to get weak and possibly break open.

“Diabetes can affect eye health because the blood vessels in your eyes are tiny and when there is an increase in sugar in the blood, it can cause blurry vision in the short term and over time it can cause damage,” says Kate Myerson, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes care and education specialist. “Fortunately, there are lots of treatments for eye conditions, which is why regular eye exams are important,” she says.

Sometimes people get worried about what their diabetes numbers are and may put off getting care, but  Myerson says exams should not be postponed. “The worst thing is not having high blood sugars, it’s not knowing or not getting checked. It’s no one’s fault if you have diabetes, blame and shame don’t make anyone healthier. The respectful thing everyone can do for themselves is to get regular checkups,” she says. That includes visiting the eye doctor.

How Blue Cross Can Help

If you need to find an eye doctor, you can use our website to locate one near you. We also offer individual vision insurance, which provides regular eye exams and vision coverage.

If you would like to learn more about caring for your eyes and preventing eye diseases, please check out the Eyes and Vision section of the Healthwise Knowledgebase on our website.