By Michael Hutton
Improve eyesight by having an eye test - even better, make sure you do this regularly. Optometrists are trained not just to pick up vision defects which can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses, but also to spot symptoms in the eye that could mean the patient has a potentially serious health condition. Yet research from the College of Optometrists - who recommend everyone has an eye examination every two years unless otherwise advised - suggests that a quarter of adults have gone for more than two years without having their eyes tested and 18 per cent of that figure have left it more than three years.
During an eye examination, optometrists examine the back of the eye, the optic nerve (which connects the eye to the brain, sending electrical impulses back which are converted into pictures) the retina (light-sensitive area which allows us to see), the cornea (the lens at the front) and the iris (the coloured centre). They check for disorders which are sight specific such as clouding of the lens indicating a cataract has developed or glaucoma caused by the pressure in the eyeball becoming too high and damaging the optic nerve leading to blindness. Both conditions can be treated successfully if caught early enough. Optometrists also check for abnormalities around the retina to pick up macular degeneration. Regular eye checks in line with the College's recommendation can ensure that any early signs of problems can be treated to avoid further deterioration and improve eyesight .
More importantly, the tests undertaken by an optometrist can also identify other potentially serious health conditions which are first detected through their associated impacts on an individual's vision. For example, if someone struggles with a visual field test this may indicate a tumour near the pituitary gland. Equally, other cancers such as retinal blastoma and ocular melanoma are most likely to be detected initially by an optometrist. Even diabetes may first be diagnosed by an optometrist given that extra glucose in the bloodstream also gets into the lens of the eye and when this happens, water follows which alters the shape of it. The lens then loses its ability to focus light for the eye which the sufferer perceives as blurred vision. So the evidence is clear - book an eye test to improve eyesight and ensure any more serious health conditions are diagnosed early.
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