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Keep an Eye on Your Vision Health

Woman framing eyes with fingersGoing to the doctor, going to the dentist—all part of taking care of your health. But going to the eye doctor? Also important! Eye exams at every age and life stage can help keep your vision strong.

Many people think their eyesight is just fine, but then they get that first pair of glasses or contact lenses and the world comes into clearer view—everything from fine print to street signs.

Improving your eyesight is important—about 11 million Americans over age 12 need vision correction—but it's just one of the reasons to get your eyes examined. Regular eye exams are also an important part of finding eye diseases early and preserving your vision.

Only Your Eye Doctor Knows for Sure

Eye diseases are common and can go unnoticed for a long time—some have no symptoms at first. A comprehensive dilated eye exam by an optometrist or ophthalmologist (eye doctor) is necessary to find eye diseases in the early stages when treatment to prevent vision loss is most effective.

During the exam, visual acuity (sharpness), depth perception, eye alignment, and eye movement are tested. Eye drops are used to make your pupils larger so your eye doctor can see inside your eyes and check for signs of health problems. Your eye doctor may even spot other conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, sometimes before your primary care doctor does.

May is Healthy Vision Month

CDC's Vision Health Initiative encourages you to make vision health a priority during Healthy Vision Month and all year long. The initiative is a group within CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation that promotes vision and eye health and quality of life by preventing and controlling eye disease, eye injury, and vision loss.

Father and son woodworking and wearing safety glasses

Another sight saver: use protective eyewear to avoid injury.

5 Ways to Protect Your Vision

  1. Get regular eye exams.
  2. Eat a healthy diet, including leafy greens such as spinach or kale, and maintain a healthy weight.
  3. Know your family's eye health history.
  4. Wear sunglasses that block out 99% to 100% of UV-A and UV-B radiation (the sun's rays).
  5. Quit smoking or don't start.

Easy on the Eyes

If you spend a lot of time focusing on one thing, such as a computer screen, your eyes can get tired. Try the 20-20-20 rule to reduce eyestrain: every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds.

Vision Care Can Change Lives

Early treatment is critically important to prevent some common eye diseases from causing permanent vision loss or blindness:

  • Cataracts (clouding of the lens), the leading cause of vision loss in the United States
  • Diabetic retinopathy (causes damage to blood vessels in the back of the eye), the leading cause of blindness in American adults
  • Glaucoma (a group of diseases that damages the optic nerve)
  • Age-related macular degeneration (gradual breakdown of light-sensitive tissue in the eye)

Of the estimated 61 million US adults at high risk for vision loss, only half visited an eye doctor in the past 12 months. Regular eye care can have a life-changing impact on preserving the vision of millions of people.

Start Early

Though people tend to have more vision problems as they get older, children need eye exams to ensure healthy vision, too. But less than 15% of preschool children get an eye exam and less than 22% receive vision screening. Vision screening can reveal a possible vision problem [326 KB], but can't diagnose it. A comprehensive dilated eye exam is needed to diagnose eye diseases.

Amblyopia (reduced vision because the eye and brain aren't working together properly) is the most common cause of vision loss in children—2 to 3 out of 100 children. Amblyopia needs to be treated promptly to help avoid vision loss.

Eye Exams: How Often?

  • Children's eyes should be checked regularly [326 KB] by an eye doctor or pediatrician. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends vision screening for all children at least once between age 3 and 5 years to detect amblyopia or risk factors for the disease.
  • People with diabetes should have a dilated eye exam every year.
  • Some people are at higher risk for glaucoma and should have a dilated eye exam every 2 years:
    • African Americans aged 40 years and older
    • Everyone older than age 60, especially Mexican Americans
    • People with a family history of glaucoma

Other Reasons to See Your Eye Doctor

If you have any of the following eye problems, don't wait for your next appointment—visit your eye doctor as soon as possible:

  • Decreased vision
  • Draining or redness of the eye
  • Eye pain
  • Double vision
  • Diabetes
  • Floaters (tiny specks that appear to float before your eyes)
  • Circles (halos) around lights
  • Flashes of light

Diabetes and Your Eyes

Diabetic retinopathy [327 KB] is a common complication of diabetes. [542 KB] High blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the retina (a light-sensitive part of the eye), where scarring can cause permanent vision loss.

Diabetic retinopathy is also one of the most preventable causes of vision loss and blindness. Early detection and treatment can prevent or delay blindness due to diabetic retinopathy in 90% of people with diabetes, but 50% or more of them don't get their eyes examined or are diagnosed too late for effective treatment.

People with diabetes are also at higher risk for other eye diseases, including glaucoma and cataracts. If you have diabetes, an eye exam every year is necessary to protect and preserve your eyesight and eye health.

Looking Ahead

Due to our aging population, the number of blind and visually impaired people in the United States is estimated to double by 2030. Encouraging people to take care of their vision health as part of their overall health and wellness could significantly reduce that number and improve quality of life for millions of Americans.