When an optometrist examines your eyes, the clarity and comfort of your vision, as well as the general health of your eyes, will be checked.
After discussing visual problems, your optometrist will use a series of tests to determine if you need prescription lenses and, if so, how strong they should be for efficient vision. There will also be checks to ensure that your eyes are working correctly as a team and to assess your ability to focus for near vision. Latest studies show that eye disease and visual impairment increase three-fold with each decade of life after 40 years of age.
“As we age everyone will experience changes in their near vision,” says Dr Stephen Vincent, optometrist and President of Optometry Queensland & Northern Territory. “This condition, known as presbyopia, makes vision difficult at a normal reading distance and is a natural part of the ageing process. “To focus on close objects, a muscle in the eye changes the shape of the lens. When we get older the lens loses its flexibility and is less able to change its shape, making it difficult to focus on close objects,” says Dr Vincent.
Just like stiffening joints or greying hair, presbyopia cannot be prevented, but fortunately, it can be easily corrected with spectacles or lenses. “Advances in optical technology have provided more options for patients, sometimes enabling us to help ageing patients focus almost as they did as a twenty-year-old,” says Dr Vincent. For example, multifocal contact lenses, allowing patients to focus at all distances, are becoming popular with baby boomers who find this form of vision correction the best way to maintain their active lifestyle.
Over the last year, multifocal contact lens fittings increased by 20 per cent in Australia. “Regular examinations are essential for people over the age of 50 to stay fit and focused and to make sure any eye conditions are detected early, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration,” says Dr Vincent. During an eye exam, the front of the eye including the cornea, conjunctiva, iris, lens and lids will also be inspected with a slit-lamp microscope.
The inside of the eye including the lens, the retinal blood vessels and the optic nerve head will be examined with an ophthalmoscope. The appearance of these tissues can indicate problems involving the eye, for example, cataract or glaucoma, or other diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Sometimes medication will have side-effects that disturb vision.
Assessments of intraocular pressure, fields of vision and colour vision may also be done. If your optometrist finds any sign of eye disease or general health problems, arrangements can be made for you to see an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) or general medical practitioner, if required. “Many of the changes caused by eye disease occur slowly, often over years, and sometimes without obvious signs or symptoms. Regular check-ups make detection more likely, enabling prompt treatment with a better chance of curing or controlling the disease,” says Dr Vincent.
Key points to remember:
• Know your eyes; understand the warning signs of changes in your vision.
• Have your eyes examined regularly by your optometrist. Eye examinations attract a Medicare rebate and no referral is required.
• Eat for your eyes; include plenty of vitamin C, vitamin E, Zine and Beta-carotene (dark green leafy vegetables).