Do you really need to have your eyes dilated with eyedrops at your annual eye exam? Short answer: Yes, you should - especially as you get older or if you are at risk for eye problems.
May is Healthy Vision Month, and the National Eye Institute is encouraging Americans to take the necessary steps to protect their vision. According to the institute, about 38 million Americans over age 40 have glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration or cataracts. And that number is projected to rise to 56 million by 2030.
The special eyedrops the doctor uses to dilate your eyes cause the pupil - the dark opening in the center of the colored iris - to widen so the retina and the optic nerve at the back of the eye are more easily seen. These two parts are crucial for clear vision.
Granted, the dilation exam is inconvenient because your eyes remain sensitive to light for hours afterward (you'll need dark sunglasses) and it's hard to focus for reading until the dilation effect wears off.
But this exam allows your eye doctor to see more of the eye's interior and possibly spot diseases and conditions that could threaten your eyesight. There are often no warning signs or pain in the early stages of many eye diseases, so regular checkups are important.
By getting your eyes dilated, your doctor can diagnose problems such as these at an early, more treatable stage:
- Diabetes-related eye problems: People who have diabetes are at risk for eye disease that can cause vision loss or blindness.
- Tumors: Brain tumors can often cause changes in the eye or vision problems.
- High blood pressure: Damage to the eye's blood vessels from hypertension could indicate a higher risk of stroke, especially for women.
- Macular degeneration: This is the most common cause of blindness in older people, and catching it early can slow its progress.
- Detached retina: A serious condition, it occurs when the retina separates from the back wall of the eye. To avoid vision loss, this must be repaired immediately.
- Cataracts: The slow clouding of the eye's lens makes it difficult to see, especially at night.
- Infection or inflammation: Infectious diseases and retinal vasculitis, an inflammation of the retina's blood vessels, can threaten eyesight. Vasculitis can also be a complication of other immune disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
Photo: cursedthing /flickr
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