Woman holding glasses away from her face

There’s something to be said for people who see the same thing day in and day out. They develop a certain body of knowledge about their field of expertise. The same is true of the medical professionals who focus on vision care. They’ve built practical knowledge of eye health and can evaluate and diagnose based on a range of information. Your doctor considers your medical history, current symptoms, and the results of your exams. At-home eye exams using telemedicine are growing in popularity and accessibility due to technological advances. But they leave much to be desired when it comes to fully assessing a patient’s health.

Get a Jump on Preventive Care

Annual eye exams with an optometrist or ophthalmologist are important for several reasons. They allow doctors to establish a history of your health, but they also allow the opportunity for early detection of various eye diseases, some of which can cause permanent vision loss. Being diligent about your vision and checkups is important not only for adults but for children as well. Vision impairment in a child can contribute to learning difficulties and delays.

Vision Health By the Numbers

  • 14 million Americans over 12: This many Americans reported visual impairment at 20/50 or worse.
  • 50 percent: Only half of Americans at high risk for vision loss have seen an eye doctor in the last year.
  • 45-90 minutes: Expect an eye exam to take between 45 minutes to an hour and a half.
  • $90 premium: Annual premium for America’s most common vision insurance plan, Vision Service Plan (VSP).
  • $50 to more than $250 for exam: Allocate between $50 and $250 for an eye exam if you don’t have vision insurance, depending on the type of doctor, which tests are included, and what services are provided.
  • $10 copay: People who have a plan with VSP pay a $10 copay for an eye exam.
  • $150 for frames, $90 for lenses: These are the national average costs for glasses when you don’t have vision insurance.
  • $25 copay: People who use VSP for vision insurance pay a $25 copay for their glasses, frames, and lenses.

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of adult-onset blindness, and it involves changes in blood vessels in the retina of the eye. Doctors detect diabetic retinopathy early through dilation during eye exams. Treatments are readily available. The problem is that about one-third of those at risk for the impairment forgo the recommended exam. The U.S. has seen a steady rise in diabetes over the past several decades, which means more people are at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

Some common conditions doctors can manage with early diagnosis and proper care include cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Only half of the estimated 61 million adults in the United States who are at risk for vision loss have seen an eye doctor in the past year. The CDC speculates that early diagnosis and treatment could prevent half of the cases of vision impairment and blindness.

Many people have a sort of phobia about going to the doctor, and many think a visit is unnecessary until a problem presents itself. This is a risky attitude, particularly if patients have underlying health issues such as diabetes or a family history of glaucoma. It’s especially risky for certain populations. These include people whose work is strenuous on their eyes or hazardous to their vision. Those who are suffering from impaired vision without realizing it are also at risk. Adults who are not at risk for other diseases should have an exam every two years. Those at risk should be examined every year or two, depending on their need and their doctor’s recommendation.

What to Expect From Your Visit

Regular eye exams consist of a consultation with a doctor or technician. The doctor will administer tests to establish the health and performance of the patient’s eyes. Many of these tests are done with simple machines and charts that patients read through various lenses. Doctors will also assess how the eyes refract, or focus at the back of the eyes. All of this is done to assess eye health and determine what prescriptions, if any, are appropriate. For some tests, such as screening for glaucoma, the doctor will administer drops to numb and dilate the eye, allowing for more accurate measurements of the pressure or for retinal examinations.

Regular checkups, while manageable for most working adults, can be too expensive for others. While costs vary depending on insurance plans and providers, vision insurance is usually more affordable and is well worth the expense to maintain eye health and prevent blindness. Vision insurance is especially important for people who need corrective lenses, contacts, surgery, or medication.

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