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Low Vision Aids for Computer Users


Low vision is a condition, often caused by a number of eye diseases that damage parts of the eye, in which individuals have significantly reduced vision.

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Computer Use and Low Vision

Individuals with low vision have some sight, but usually, it is not sufficient to get by in daily life without some assistance. Often they are not able to read, drive, cook, or work on a computer without a visual aid. Today there are many low vision aids available on the market to help those with low vision to function independently in performing daily tasks.

Computer use is one activity that often requires assistance and the good news is the technology to aid computer users with low vision is always improving.

Here are some devices and programs on the market to help:

Text Magnifying

There are a number of ways to enlarge the text on your computer screen in addition to handheld magnifiers.

Via Your Computer Operating System: Both newer generation Windows and Mac operating systems have screen magnifiers built-in. These do not have as many capabilities as purchased screen reader programs but for many with mild low vision, they may be sufficient.

Via Browser: When using the Internet most browsers (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer) allow you to change the size of the page or text on the screen to suit your needs. To enlarge the text on a PC simply hold down the Control (“Ctrl”) key on your keyboard and either tap the “+” key or roll the wheel on your mouse. To reduce the size tap the “-” key or turn the mouse wheel in the opposite direction. On a MAC, you press command and shift at the same time along with the “+” or “-” keys.

Additionally, the browser might have a drop-down option under the “view” tab that allows you to Zoom the screen in or out or make the text larger or smaller. Keep in mind that if you are using a larger higher quality screen, this will enable you to see bigger and more clearly as well.

Screen magnification programs: there are a number of free and paid software programs that will enlarge the text, picture and images on your computer screen.

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Screen Readers and Text to Speech Programs

There are a number of programs that enable you to “read” what is on the computer without needing to see it - these are designed for people that are totally blind as well. These programs work by scanning the text and icons on a page and converting it to speech which is read aloud. Some of these programs also have a cursor on the page that moves along with the voice.

Up to date Microsoft and Apple operating systems do have simple, built-in screen readers but they may be limited. The Chrome browser and Android devices do as well. Nevertheless, depending on your abilities, you may prefer to purchase a program with more comprehensive options and usability.

If you are looking for something simpler, text-to-speech programs exist in which you select a portion of the text you want to read and the program reads it for you.

Screen Contrast

Adjusting your screen to the highest contrast will enable the letters and images on the monitor to stand out. Font should be adjusted to achieve a dark text on a light background. Further it is advisable to reduce glare as much as possible. This may require adjusting window shades and indoor lights or even purchasing an anti-glare screen to reduce glare that can’t be eliminated.

Hardware

You can purchase special keyboards, mice and monitor magnifiers made specifically to enhance usability for those with low vision. Purchasing a large LCD screen for your monitor will also help to enhance visibility.
Computers can be a window to open our world to information, connections, work and play. Individuals with low vision can access all of this as well with the assistance of specialized software, devices and programs using the strengths and senses that they do possess.

Ask your eye doctor for more information about how we can help.

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How To Cope With Low Vision


Reduced vision is defined as vision that can not be corrected completely using either contact lenses, eyeglasses, or surgery, and is blurry (at the level of at least 20/70), or limited in its view field.

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Low vision is sometimes caused by injury to the eye or brain, and it can be inherited. However, the main cause of low vision is eye disease, including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.

If you have low vision you have some sight. However completing normal activities, including driving and reading, can be hard or even impossible.

Low vision is a condition that the elderly suffer from, although it is possible for children and middle-aged patients to have low vision. After a life of seeing normally, losing your vision can be hard, or even traumatic, and can potentially lead to frustration, or even depression.

Low Vision, Working and Independence

What is especially hard about low vision is that many people are unable to work, and lose their existing jobs. In 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey showed that the employment rate for Americans with low vision was 24 percent.

If you have low vision, you probably feel disconnected from the rest of the world. With low vision, it’s hard to read, see images on television or a computer screen, and impossible to drive. You may not be able to be independent and run your own errands, shop for food, or visit friends and family. Sometimes people with a vision impairment suffer with this burden alone, while others must rely completely on friends and relatives on a daily basis.

There are many devices and ways to manage low vision, which can help people suffering with low vision to continue leading productive and independent lives. Some of the devices that can help make the most out of remaining vision are magnifiers, both handheld and mounted on eyeglasses, and telescopes.

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Symptoms of Low Vision

Signs that it is time to see an eye doctor include loss of peripheral vision, blurry vision, sensitivity to light, night blindness, needing more light to see, spots or floaters, and reading difficulty. This symptom could indicate that a cataract is beginning in your eye. Or these problems could be signs of an eye condition such as glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, or macular degeneration. Make sure to see your eye doctor before any eye condition becomes so serious that vision loss occurs.

If it’s not possible to correct your vision loss with surgery, medical treatment, or eyewear, your eye doctor will send you to a specialist in low vision care. A low vision specialist, who is usually an optometrist, will evaluate your vision loss. Once he or she determines the type and degree of vision loss you are suffering from, this specialist can create a treatment plan including low vision aids, and guidance in using devices that help you to live with vision loss.

Additionally, a low vision specialist has knowledge of many different types of aids for low vision, including large-print and audiobooks, specially-designed lights, and signature guides that are used to sign checks and other documents. Sometimes eye care professionals that are treating vision loss recommend counseling to help their patients learn to live with the changes that low vision brings.

Low Vision


Low vision refers to significant vision impairment that usually results from serious eye disease or an injury. However, it isn't blindness as limited sight remains. The vision loss can't be fully corrected with glasses, contact lenses, medication or surgery.

Low vision can affect both children and older individuals but is more common in the elderly, who are at greater risk of sight-robbing eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts.

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Low vision causes

Leading causes of low vision include genetics, eye injury, brain injury, or eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy or retinitis pigmentosa. Depending on the severity and type of vision impairment, the patient may have some remaining vision.

Low vision tends to be common in adults over age 75.

Below are the most common types of low vision:

  • Central vision loss: a blind spot in the center of vision.
  • Peripheral (side) vision loss: inability to see to the side, above below eye level, but perfect ability to see straight ahead.
  • Night blindness: struggling to see in poorly lit or dim environments such as evening or nighttime.
  • Blurry vision: when objects appear out of focus.
  • Hazy vision: feeling like you're looking at everything through a fog or a haze

How does low vision affect daily life?

For people with significant vision loss, completing daily tasks including reading, writing, cooking, and housework, watching television, driving, or even recognizing people can become a struggle.

Once one is diagnosed with low vision, it can come as a shock. Because low vision often results in one’s inability to work, function independently, drive and resume normal life, many patients feel isolated and depressed. Fortunately, there are numerous resources, aids and devices available to help maximize any remaining vision.

If you or someone you know is struggling with low vision, contact Lowy & Sewell Eye Care in Concord today. We can help.

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Visual rehabilitation and visual aids

Vision loss ranges from mild visual impairment to legal blindness. Certain optometrists can evaluate your condition and offer an individualized rehabilitation plan to help you maximize remaining functional vision and increase independence in daily living.

What are visual aids?

Low-vision aids are designed to improve visual performance in those with low vision thus enriching daily experiences. Low vision aids are typically characterized into three main categories: non-optical, optical, and electronic.

Non-optical aids: are external adaptations that render daily tasks easier to undertake. These include large-print books, glare-proof sunglasses, and tactile dots.

Optical aids: Specialized lenses, such as telescopes and stand magnifiers, can enhance vision.

Electronic aids: this includes a range of technologies, such as closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs), screen readers, and head mounted eyewear displays, and more.

How to make life with low vision easier

  1. Ensure that you have adequate lighting in your home. This may require some trial and error with different lights to determine what works best for you.
  2. Use a magnifier. There is a vast selection of magnifiers available, ranging from hand-held to stand magnifiers. Binoculars and spectacle-mounted magnifiers are also an option.
  3. Your optometrist or low vision specialist can recommend specialized lens tints for certain conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa or cataracts, which enhance vision or reduce light sensitivity.
  4. Use large print books for reading. Alternatively, try digital recordings or mp3's.
  5. Make use of high contrast for writing. Try writing in large letters with a broad black pen on a white piece of paper or board.
  6. Adding a high-contrast stripe on steps (bright color on dark staircase, or black stripe on light stairs) can help prevent falls in people with low vision, and may enable them to remain independent in their home.
  7. Discover new and innovative technologies that can help you see better.

If you or a loved one has low vision, don’t despair. Consult with our eye doctor in Concord regarding the best course of action to take to simplify your life.

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Children's Vision & Learning


According to experts, 80% of learning is visual, which means that if your child is having difficulty seeing clearly, it can adversely affect their school performance.

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20/20 Vision Is Not Enough

If your child has been told they have ‘20/20 sight’, it means you can clearly see the letters on the vision chart at 20 feet away. However having 20/20 eyesight is not enough.

With 20/20 vision, your child may pass the vision screening and excel in seeing all the letters on reading the vision charts on the wall, but still lack the necessary visual skills needed for reading, writing, and learning, all of which can adversely impact your one's scholastic achievements. 

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Visual Skills and Learning

As mentioned above, poor visual skills, rather than poor eyesight, is often at the root of learning problems. Many children struggle with schoolwork because of one or more of the following critical vision skill deficiencies:

EYE MOVEMENT CONTROL Poor eye movement control often results in errors, such as reversing letters, losing one’s place, and inserting or skipping letters, numbers, or words.

FOCUSING This allows the eyes to quickly refocus from near to far objects and vice versa — essential for reading the board and writing notes.

EYE ALIGNMENT Your eyes need to point accurately and simultaneoulsy, to the object viewed. If one of the eyes deviates it can result in double vision, and affect reading skills and classroom learning.

CONVERGENCE To look at a near object, the eyes must converge toward each other. If convergence is not maintained, one eye turns in or out, causing the object or word to appear double, blurry, or mislocated.

VISUAL PERCEPTION Those with poor visual perception typically confuse numbers and letters, such as “b” with “d”, “p” and “q”, or “6” and “9”, have difficulty recognizing words, frequently lose their place in a text, and are unable to distinguish right from left, among other things.

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How Undeveloped Visual Skills Affect Kids Learning

All too often, it is an undiagnosed vision problem that’s at the root of the struggle to focus at a distance (such as the board), maintain concentration, or skip lines when reading. This makes bright children seem like they can’t grasp the subject at hand, which, in turn, can result in secondary behavioral issues, such as frustration and boredom — an overlooked component of a child’s diagnosis with ADD/ADHD or a learning disability.

If your child is struggling at school, contact us today for an in-depth vision exam to assess their essential visual skills.

Learning-Related Vision Problems

Signs and Symptoms

Some of the most common roadmap symptoms of learning-related vision disorders are:

  • Double vision, particularly during or after reading
  • Poor handwriting
  • Hyperactivity or recklessness during class
  • Word and letter reversals
  • Easily distracted during reading
  • Poor reading comprehension
  • Poor overall school performance
  • Circumventing of reading
  • Blurred vision, especially after reading or working closely
  • Eye Strain or frequent headaches

Call us to schedule a comprehensive child’s vision exam if your child exhibits one or more of these signs or symptoms and is exhibiting these types of problems in school.

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Comprehensive Child Vision Exam

A comprehensive child's vision exam includes tests performed in a routine eye exam, plus specific additional tests for detecting learning-related vision problems.

Extra tests would include accommodation, binocular vision, and ocular motility testing. In addition to these—and depending on the type of problems your child displays— we may recommend additional testing, either with one of our optometrists or with a vision development specialist.

Vision Therapy

Special reading glasses or vision therapy may help your child if s/he has a learning-related vision problem that cannot be corrected using regular glasses or contact lenses. Vision therapy entails eye exercises and other activities specifically tailored for each patient to strengthen vision skills.

 

How to Cope with Low Vision

Reduced vision is defined as vision that can not be corrected completely using either contact lenses, eyeglasses, or surgery, and is blurry (at the level of at least 20/70), or limited in its view field. Low vision is sometimes caused by injury to the eye or brain, and it can be inherited. However the main cause of low vision is eye disease, including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

If you have low vision you have some sight. However completing normal activities, including driving and reading, can be hard or even impossible.

Low vision is a condition that the elderly suffer from, although it is possible for children and adults to have low vision. After a life of seeing normally, losing your vision can be hard, or even traumatic, and can potentially lead to frustration, or even depression.

What is especially hard about low vision is that many people are unable to work, and lose their existing jobs. In 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey showed that the employment rate for Americans with low vision was 24 percent.

If you have low vision, you probably feel disconnected from the rest of the world. With low vision, it’s hard to read, see images on television or a computer screen, and impossible to drive. You may not be able to be independant and run your own errands, shop for food, or visit friends and family. Sometimes people with a vision impairment suffer with this burden alone, while others must rely completely on friends and relatives on a daily basis.

There are many devices and ways to manage low vision, which can help people suffering with low vision to continue leading productive and independent lives. Some of the devices that can help make the most out of remaining vision are magnifiers, both handheld and mounted on eyeglasses, and telescopes.

Signs that it is time to see an eye doctor include loss of peripheral vision, blurry vision, sensitivity to light, night blindness, needing more light to see, spots or floaters, and reading difficulty. This symptoms could indicate that a cataract is beginning in your eye. Or these problems could be signs of an eye condition such as glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, or macular degeneration. Make sure to see your eye doctor before any eye condition becomes so serious that vision loss occurs.

If it’s not possible to correct your vision loss with surgery, medical treatment, or eyewear, your eye doctor will send you to a specialist in low vision care. A low vision specialist, who is usually an optometrist, will evaluate your vision loss. Once he or she determines the type and degree of vision loss you are suffering from, this specialist can create a treatment plan including low vision aids, and guidance in using devices that help you to live with vision loss.

Additionally, a low vision specialist has knowledge of many different types of aids for low vision, including large-print and audio books, specially-designed lights, and signature guides that are used to sign checks and other documents. Sometimes eye care professionals that are treating vision loss recommend counseling to help their patients learn to live with the changes that low vision brings.

PRK

Photorefractive Keratectomy or PRK is a type of refractive laser eye surgery used to correct a patient’s vision to eliminate or reduce their dependence on glasses or contact lenses. PRK is the style of laser eye surgery that preceded LASIK, having been the former most common type of refractive surgery until LASIK came along.

PRK is effective in correcting nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism and has very similar rates of success and outcomes as LASIK. PRK remains a common option for laser eye surgery.

How Does PRK Differ From LASIK

PRK and LASIK both permanently reshape the cornea to improve vision by using a laser (an excimer laser to be exact) to remove part of the tissue underneath the corneal epithelium. The epithelium first needs to be removed in order to get access to the tissue and how this is done is what differentiates the two procedures. While LASIK creates and lifts a flap on the outer corneal layer, reshapes the corneal tissue underneath and then replaces the flap, PRK removes the outer layer of the cornea completely. The outer layer will regenerate usually within a few days.

Advantages of PRK

Since PRK completely removes the outer corneal layer, there is a greater area of the cornea to work with. This is ideal for patients with a thin cornea who would otherwise be at risk with LASIK. It is also usually recommended for patients with chronic dry eyes. With PRK, there is also less risk of infection or issues having to do with the flap and the related healing process. This is an advantage for individuals who lead a lifestyle in which they are at risk for eye injuries (athletes, military, law enforcement etc.) which may subject the flap to injury or complications.

So, Why Is LASIK More Popular?

The main advantages that LASIK has over PRK are two-fold and mainly have to do with comfort and recovery time. First of all, PRK patients usually experience slightly more discomfort during the first couple of days of recovery, mainly because it takes time for the outer corneal layer to heal. They will be prescribed eye drops to be taken for several months to prevent infection, increase comfort and assist the healing process. LASIK patients on the other hand, typically experience less discomfort and if they do, it subsides very quickly.

Additionally, vision recovery takes longer with PRK. While LASIK patients can typically see normally within a few hours after the surgery, with vision gradually continuing to improve within the next few months, PRK patients may experience blurred vision for up to three days and it can take up to six months until they achieve full visual clarity. While patients who undergo LASIK can usually drive and resume normal functioning within a day or two, PRK patients shouldn’t plan on returning to normal for at least several days until the outer layer of the cornea has grown back.

Whether PRK or LASIK is a better option for you depends on a number of factors, including the health and structure of your eye. This is a decision that your eye doctor or surgeon will help you make. Rest assured however, that both procedures have been shown to be incredibly successful in correcting vision, with minimal complications.

What You Need to Know About PRK

Prior to any laser correction surgery, you will meet with a surgeon for a thorough exam to assess your eye health and determine whether you are a candidate and if so, which type of surgery would be best suited to your needs. During this exam it is essential to tell the doctor any relevant medical history (injuries, hospitalizations, diseases etc.) and existing conditions you have. The surgeon will determine if you are currently eligible for surgery and if not, if you will be at a future point, and whether you require any specialized care pre or post surgery.

The surgery itself is an ambulatory procedure. It takes about 15 minutes or less for both eyes and you go home the same day. You will need someone to drive you home from the procedure.

The first step in the procedure is that your eye will be anesthetized using numbing eye drops and then a device will be inserted to prop your eyelids open so you won’t blink. Once the eye is numb, the surgeon will remove the outer epithelial layer of the cornea to expose the underlying tissue. Then the surgeon will use the laser to reshape the corneal tissue. You may feel a small amount of pressure during this step. Lastly, the surgeon will apply medicated eye drops and place a temporary contact lens that is used as a bandage to protect the eye.

Following the surgery you will be instructed to apply medicated eye drops multiple times each day to reduce the risk of infection and you may also be given prescription pain relievers to alleviate any pain or discomfort.

As with any type of surgery, it is critical to carefully follow your surgeon’s instructions after PRK. Make sure that you take your medication as prescribed, get enough rest, and call your eye doctor immediately if you experience any problems.

It is normal for it to take several days or even weeks for your vision to improve and up to 3-6 months for full recovery to clear and stable visual acuity. Usually, your doctor will require you to refrain from driving for a week and up to three weeks depending on how fast your vision recovers.

Risks and Complications of PRK

While serious complications are rare, like any surgery, there are some risks to PRK, and these happen to be very similar to any laser corrective surgery like LASIK. They include:

  • Dry eyes- this condition usually goes away within a couple of months, but there is a chance that it could become chronic.
  • Infection or Inflammation- the risk of infection is greatly reduced if you take proper care to follow your doctor’s instructions following the procedure.
  • Vision Problems- which can include glare, seeing halos around lights poor night vision and sometimes a general haziness.
  • Incomplete Vision Correction – sometimes an additional procedure might be needed to achieve optimal visual acuity.

In general, PRK is considered to be a relatively safe and effective treatment for vision correction. If you wish to live a life without depending on your glasses or contact lenses, speak to your eye doctor about whether PRK is an option for you.

Low Vision Aids for Computer Users

Low vision is a condition, often caused by a number of eye diseases which damage parts of the eye, in which individuals have significantly reduced vision. Individuals with low vision have some sight, but usually it is not sufficient to get by in daily life without some assistance. Often they are not able to read, drive, cook or work on a computer without a visual aid. Today there are many low vision aids available on the market to help those with low vision to function independently in performing daily tasks.

Computer use is one activity that often requires assistance and the good news is the technology to aid computer users with low vision is always improving.

Here are some devices and programs on the market to help:

Text Magnifying:

There are a number of ways to enlarge the text on your computer screen in addition to handheld magnifiers.

Via Your Computer Operating System: Both newer generation Windows and Mac operating systems have screen magnifiers built in. These do not have as many capabilities as purchased screen reader programs but for many with mild low vision, they may be sufficient.

Via Browser: When using the Internet most browsers (Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer) allow you to change the size of the page or text on the screen to suit your needs. To enlarge the text on a PC simply hold down the Control (“Ctrl”) key on your keyboard and either tap the “+” key or roll the wheel on your mouse. To reduce the size tap the “-” key or turn the mouse wheel in the opposite direction. On a MAC, you press command and shift at the same time along with the “+” or “-” keys.

Additionally, the browser might have a drop down option under the “view” tab that allows you to Zoom the screen in or out or make the text larger or smaller. Keep in mind that if you are using a larger higher quality screen, this will enable you to see bigger and more clearly as well.

Screen magnification programs: there are a number of free and paid software programs that will enlarge the text, picture and images on your computer screen.

Screen Readers and Text to Speech Programs:

There are a number of programs that enable you to “read” what is on the computer without needing to see it – these are designed for people that are totally blind as well. These programs work by scanning the text and icons on a page and converting it to speech which is read aloud. Some of these programs also have a cursor on the page that moves along with the voice.

Up to date Microsoft and Apple operating systems do have simple, built in screen readers but they may be limited. The Chrome browser and Android devices do as well. Nevertheless depending on your abilities, you may prefer to purchase a program with more comprehensive options and usability.

If you are looking for something simpler, text-to-speech programs exist in which you select a portion of the text you want to read and the program reads it for you.

Screen Contrast

Adjusting your screen to the highest contrast will enable the letters and images on the monitor to stand out. Font should be adjusted to achieve a dark text on a light background. Further it is advisable to reduce glare as much as possible. This may require adjusting window shades and indoor lights or even purchasing an anti-glare screen to reduce glare that can’t be eliminated.

Hardware

You can purchase special keyboards, mice and monitor magnifiers made specifically to enhance usability for those with low vision. Purchasing a large LCD screen for your monitor will also help to enhance visibility.
Computers can be a window to open our world to information, connections, work and play. Individuals with low vision can access all of this as well with the assistance of specialized software, devices and programs using the strengths and senses that they do possess.

Why are Eye Exams Important?

For both adults and children alike, eye exams are an important part of one’s general health maintenance and assessment. Your eyes should be checked regularly to ensure that you are able to see as best as possible. Regular eye health exams will also check for signs of eye disease or conditions that can affect not only your vision but your overall health. Vision and eye health is such a critical part in learning and development, therefore, we highly recommend eye exams for infants and children.

Vision Screening vs. an Eye Exam

When we recommend regular eye exams, this should not be confused with a vision screening. A vision screening is a basic test that indicates if you have difficulty seeing and require further assessment and corrective measures. It can be performed by anyone, whether it is a school nurse, a pediatrician or even a volunteer at a vision clinic. A vision screening usually only checks vision, it does not check eye health. Also, most vision screenings for kids only check for nearsightedness (when you can not see far), but what happens when the majority of children are farsighted? Most of the time many of these kids get overlooked.

A comprehensive eye exam on the other hand, can only be performed by an eye doctor as it requires special knowledge and equipment to look around and into your eye to check your eye and vision health. Such an exam can assess whether there are underlying causes for vision problems and whether there are any signs of disease which can threaten your site and the health of your eye. A comprehensive eye examination can also diagnose symptoms of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tumors, cancer, autoimmune disorders, and thyroid disorders. A comprehensive eye examination will also provide an accurate prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Eye Exams for Eye Health

Eye exams are critical because many vision threatening eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, or diabetic retinopathy have no or minimal symptoms until the disease has progressed. In these cases, early detection and treatment is essential to halting or slowing down the progression of the disease and saving eyesight. During a comprehensive eye examination, your eye doctor will be looking for initial signs of these diseases. If a problem with your eyes arises such as red eyes, eye allergies, dry eyes, eye swelling,eye pain, always seek an eye doctor as your first doctor to call since they are specifically trained to treat eye diseases.

Eye Exams and Children

If your child is having developmental delays or trouble in school there could be an underlying vision problem. Proper learning, motor development, reading, and many other skills are dependent upon not only good vision, but your eyes functioning together. Children that have problems with focusing or hand-eye coordination will often experience frustration and may exhibit behavioral problems as well. Often they don’t know that the vision they are experiencing is abnormal so they aren’t able to express that they need help. Many conditions are much easier to treat when they are caught early while the eyes are still developing, so it is important to diagnose any eye health and vision issues as early as possible.

Eye Exams Over 40

Just like the rest of our bodies, our eyes begin to weaken as we age. There are a number of common age-related eye conditions such as presbyopia, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration that can begin to affect your vision and your daily life. While some of these conditions are more of an inconvenience, others could lead to vision loss and dependency.

In addition to regular yearly eye exams, it is important to be aware of any changes in your eye health and vision. Also know your potential risk factors as well as your family ocular and medical history. Over half of the vision loss worldwide is preventable with proper treatment and care.

Preparing for an Eye Exam

For both adults and children, an eye exam is a critical part in maintaining your overall health and well-being, and therefore, regular eye exams should be incorporated into your health routine. Comprehensive eye exams assess your vision and the health of your eye, looking for early signs of disease that may not have obvious symptoms. You should not wait until you experience a vision problem or symptoms of an eye condition to schedule a routine exam.

Depending on your age, family history, general health and eye health, it is recommended to have an eye exam every one to two years. Of course if you experience any serious symptoms that affect your eyes or your vision, you should contact your eye doctor immediately.

The Difference Between an Optometrist (OD) and an Ophthalmologist (MD or DO)

Confusion about the difference between optometrists and ophthalmologists is common, and many people are not aware of how the two eye care professionals differ.

Optometrists

Optometrists or Doctors of Optometry attend optometry school which is usually at least four years of graduate level training. They are able to perform eye exams, provide prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses, and diagnose and treat eye diseases as as glaucoma, dry eyes, or eye infections that may require medication or drops. They can consult with and co-manage patients in pre- or post-op surgical care, however they do not perform surgery.

Ophthalmologists

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors that attend medical school and later specialize in ophthalmology. They are able to do all of the services mentioned above but also perform eye surgeries such as cataract surgery, refractive surgery such as LASIK and deal with more urgent eye conditions such as retinal detachment.

Infant and Child Eye Exams

The Canadian Association of Optometrists (CAO) recommends that all children should have their eyes examined between 6 and 9 months of age, and one eye exam between the ages of 2 and 5. If there are any signs that there may be a vision problem or if the child has certain risk factors (such as developmental delays, premature birth, crossed eyes, family history or previous injuries) more frequent exams are recommended. A child that wears eyeglasses or contact lenses should have his or her eyes examined yearly.

Adult Eye Exams

Healthy adults under 40 with good vision and who do not wear eyeglasses or contact lenses are recommended to have an eye exam at least every two years. Those that do use vision correction or have a health issue such as diabetes, high blood pressure or another health condition that can have an impact on your eye health should schedule a yearly exam, unless the eye doctor recommends more frequent visits.

Once you reach 40, you become susceptible to a number of age-related eye conditions such as presbyopia, cataracts or macular degeneration, therefore annual or bi-annual exams are strongly recommended.

As you continue to age, particularly after age 55, the risks of eye disease increase, and early detection can be critical to preventing significant vision loss or blindness. Scheduling a yearly eye exam can make all the difference in maintaining your independence and quality of life.

How to Prepare for Your Exam

Prior to your exam you should decide whether you will be seeking special services such as a contact lens exam or LASIK consultation. These services may cost extra. Check with the doctor’s office or your insurance provider to see if they cover any of the exam expenses.

You need to know if you have medical insurance, vision plan coverage or both. Medical insurance usually does not cover “wellness/refractive” exams for glasses or contact lenses. Vision plans will cover exams for glasses or contacts, but usually cannot be used for red eyes, floaters, or other medical eye health problems. Please bring your insurance cards with you.

In addition to bringing your current pair of glasses or contacts if applicable, it is important to be aware of your personal and family history and to have a list of medications or supplements you are currently taking. Your pupils will probably be dilated as apart of your exam, so plan accordingly.

Your Comprehensive Eye Exam

Your eyes are one of the most complex organs in your body. A comprehensive eye exam to assess your visual system and eye health involves a number of different of tests. Unlike a simple vision screening, which only assesses your vision, a comprehensive eye exam includes a battery of tests in order to do a complete evaluation of the health of your eyes and your vision.

The tests that you will undergo in a comprehensive eye examination may vary from eye doctor to eye doctor but here are are some common exams that you may encounter:

Patient Background and History

One of the most important parts in a comprehensive eye exam is your patient health history. This information will alert your doctor to any conditions that should be monitored closely, such as an allergy to any medications, current or family history of systemic or eye pathology or environmental conditions that could be affecting your vision or eye health. This will also help your doctor to determine any preventative eye care measures that are relevant to keep your eyes healthy for years to come.

Visual Acuity

Visual acuity is a measurement of your vision using an eye chart, the Snellen Eye Chart. In this test the patient is seated at a standard distance and is asked to read letters or symbols of various sizes, which get smaller as you move down the chart. The results are the familiar ratio of 20/20, 20/40 etc. which is a comparison of your vision compared to the average person with good vision, which is typically 20/20. For example, a patient that has 20/40 vision, can only see at 20 feet what the normal person can see from a distance of 40 feet. This test is a preliminary test of how clearly you are seeing in each eye but it does not give you a prescription for corrective lenses.

Refraction

Those who don’t have 20/20 vision have what is referred to in most cases as a “Refractive Error.” The patient may have nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism or other eye conditions that prevent the patient from seeing 20/20. A refraction will tell the doctor which prescription lenses will correct your eyesight to achieve 20/20 vision or whichever amount your vision is correctable to.

A refraction may include a couple of steps.

Retinoscopy

Retinoscopy is a test that allows the doctor to obtain an approximate prescription for eyeglasses. In this test the doctor uses a hand-held instrument called a retinoscope that shines a light into the patient’s eye. The doctor then analyzes the reflex of the light from the patient’s eye to determine the patient’s prescription for glasses.

An instrument called a phoropter is something most patients associate with an eye exam. This space age appearing instrument, positioned in front of the patient’s face during the eye exam, gives the doctor the ability to determine the patient’s focusing ability as well as their eye alignment. The phoropter also determines which, out of the hundreds and hundreds of potential eyeglass prescriptions, will help the patient see as clear as possible. Using the phoropter, the doctor will ask the patient which series of lenses makes their vision the clearest.

While retinoscopy is quite effective for children and nonverbal patients, there are now a number of computerized or automated instruments available today to help doctors accurately determine a patient’s eyeglass prescription.

Autorefractors and Aberrometers

Autorefractors and aberrometers are computerized machines that are able to measure your refractive error to determine your prescription for glasses or contact lenses. These instruments are usually used in addition to testing described earlier:

– An autorefractor is similar to retinoscopy, which electronically analyses the light reflex from the patient’s eye.

– An aberrometer measures distortions or aberrations in the cornea and lens of the eye that disrupt proper focus of light on the retina. Using wavefront technology, the instrument measures the rays of light as they pass through your eye to look for imperfections which may indicate a refractive error.

Eye Focusing and Eye Teaming Tests

During the comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor will also want to test how your eyes function individually and together from a mechanical perspective. In order to see clearly and comfortably, your eyes need to work together as a team.

Eye Health

The final and most important aspect of a comprehensive eye exam is a check of your overall eye health. These tests (below) are done to identify any eye conditions or diseases, both inside the eye as well as the external parts of the eye, that could affect your vision and general health.

Slit Lamp Test

The slit lamp or biomicroscope is an instrument that allows the doctor to examine the internal and external parts of the eye in detail, such as the conjunctiva, iris, lens, cornea, retina and the optic nerve. The patient rests their forehead and chin on a headrest to stabilize the head, while the doctor looks into the eye with the slit lamp microscope, which is magnified with a high-intensity light. A slit lamp test enables the doctor to evaluate the eyes for signs of normal aging and eye pathology, such as conjunctivitis, cataracts, macular degeneration or retinal detachment. Early diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases are essential for preventing vision loss.

Tonometry

Tonometry is a test to detect glaucoma by measuring the pressure inside your eye or IOP (intraocular pressure). Glaucoma can cause vision loss and even blindness if the IOP in the eye is too high and damages the optic nerve.

The applanation tonometer, typically attached to a slit lamp, is one of the most common instruments used to measure the pressure in the eye. Prior to doing this test the doctor will numb the patient’s eyes using an anesthetic, before gently applanating (putting pressure on) the patient’s cornea to measure the pressure in the eye.

Pupil Dilation

During your comprehensive eye exam, your doctor may decide to do a dilated eye exam. In this test, your doctor will instill dilating drops in each eye, which would enlarge your pupils to give the doctor a better view of certain parts of the back of the eye. Dilation is done at the discretion of the doctor, with some patients dilated every year and others at specified intervals; the frequency of dilation will vary for each patient.

Typically the drops take around 20 to 30 minutes to take effect and may last up to several hours following the exam; each patient is different. Since more light enters your eyes when your pupils are dilated, you will be more sensitive to bright light, especially sunlight. Although your doctor may provide disposable sunglasses, you may want to bring a pair of sunglasses to wear after the exam to make it more comfortable until the drops wear off.

A comprehensive eye exam is an important part of your overall general health maintenance and should be scheduled on a regular basis. The findings from your comprehensive eye exam can give your doctor important information about your overall health, particularly diabetes and high blood pressure.