Healthy Body

Optometrists Explain How To Know When To Get Your Eyes Checked—And Why It’s So Important

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Whether you're a long-time glasses wearer or you've been eyewear-free for most of your life, it can be hard to know when a little blurriness in your vision means you need a new (or first ever) prescription. Maybe you find yourself leaning closer to your steering wheel while driving— trying with all your might to read an exit sign—or maybe you need to bring the restaurant menu to the tip of your nose to see anything.

Whatever it is, noticing a change in your vision can be a bit confusing, and it's easy to brush off.  But, if you're routinely straining to read everything from your favorite book to important street signs—it might be time for an eye exam.

The biggest clue that you need to get your eyes checked: Your long-distance vision or your close-distance vision is blurry, says Anita Mistry, an in-house optician for WALDO. A visit to the eye doctor would confirm whether or not you need a prescription, and then you'd get either contact lenses or glasses to correct your vision.

Ahead, optometrists break down the biggest reasons to go see your eye doctor for a check-up—and why it's really important to do so regularly.

4 habits you might notice when you need to get your eyes checked

Believe it or not, it can be kind of hard to tell when your vision has changed, says Selena Chan, OD, an optometrist with Pacific Rims Optometry in San Francisco, but there are a few things you might notice in your daily life that could indicate you aren't seeing things as clearly as you should.

  1. You're squinting at signs when you're driving: If you're having trouble seeing while driving—day or night—it's important to get your eyes checked right away, says Kambiz Silani, OD, an optometrist in Beverly Hill. That's because it can affect the safety of you and those around you.
  2. You notice lights look different at night: If you're seeing glares, streaks, or expanding circles around lights at night, that's also a sign your vision needs attention, Dr. Silani explains.
  3. You can't look at screens for too long: If you experience eye strain, headaches, or blurred vision after spending extended time on a digital device or screen, or after working at a computer all day, it could be due to vision changes, says Julie McLaughlin, OD, an optometrist at Lehigh Eye Specialists in Bethlehem, PA.
  4. You're holding your book further away: Another sure sign that your vision has changed is if you're holding your reading material further away from your face and squinting to read the words clearly, says Dr. McLaughlin.

If you've recently changed your prescription, know that it can take a little time for your eyes to adjust, says Dr. Chan, typically from a few days to a week, or even a bit longer if there was a large change in your prescription. There can also be an adjustment period if you've decided to switch from glasses to contacts or vice versa based on your lifestyle, she shares. In any case, give your eyes a chance to get used to your new eyewear, and if you're still not seeing clearly after a couple of weeks, schedule a follow-up appointment with your optometrist.

Getting annual eye exams is really important for more than just your vision

Having your eyes checked regularly isn't just about updating your prescription—it's also about making sure your eyes are healthy. If done regularly, your doctor can monitor any changes in the eye, which can help detect or prevent certain conditions that cause damage to the small blood vessels in your eyes.

"Optometrists are able to identify early warning signs of more than 270 non-related eye diseases, like diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, and cancers. In fact, getting a comprehensive eye exam is the only way to visualize the blood vessels behind the eye for issues without an X-ray, CT scan, or invasive surgery," Dr.Chan explains. If you don't have health insurance that covers vision care, there are some low-cost options available.

It's best to think of your annual eye exam in the same way as your annual physical exam—it's simply a part of your overall health maintenance. "Above all, I can't stress enough how important it is to schedule an annual comprehensive eye exam even if you don't have any of these symptoms or feel your eyesight hasn't changed," says Dr. Chan.

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