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20/20 vision? Why you still need an eye exam

Dan Winfield By Dan Winfield

Eye Exam

At a routine eye exam, Aetna employee Francis Russo was surprised when his doctor asked him if he had a history of high blood pressure. “Being an athletic 20-something, I thought he was nuts,” Francis says. “But I went for a general checkup anyway, and he was right: I needed medication.” Through some lifestyle changes, Francis was later able to go off the medicine. But without that comprehensive eye exam, he never would have known his blood pressure was an issue.

See our handy checklist for more important preventive care tests and screenings.

A window to your wellbeing

The eye provides doctors a clear view of blood vessels, so an eye exam can tell you a lot about your general health. “Our eyes are amazing — they offer a unique view into the human body,” explains John Lahr, MD, medical director with EyeMed Vision Care, which provides administrative services for Aetna’s vision plans. “A thorough exam can spot serious problems such as diabetes, lupus, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration.” With regular eye exams, you may catch these problems earlier and avoid serious complications.

Learn how some habits help protect your eyes and your overall health.

How often should you go?

If you don’t have any symptoms or vision problems, doctors recommend getting regular eye exams based on your age:

  • Ages 20 to 39: Every 5 years
  • Ages 40 to 54: Every 2 to 4 years
  • Ages 55 to 64: Every 1 to 3 years
  • Ages 65 and up: Every 1 to 2 years

You’ll want to have your eyes checked more often if you wear glasses or contact lenses, have a family history of eye disease, or have a chronic condition that puts you at risk for eye disease, like diabetes.

For kids under age 3, a pediatrician can look for common childhood problems like a lazy eye or crossed eyes. It’s a good idea to have your kids’ eyes checked before entering first grade. After that, if your family doesn’t have a history of vision problems, eye exams every one to two years should be enough.

Ophthalmologist or optometrist?

Many people are confused about what kind of eye doctor to see for an exam. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor licensed to practice medicine and surgery who can also prescribe glasses and contact lenses. An optometrist is a licensed professional (not a medical doctor) who mostly performs eye exams and vision tests and prescribes glasses and contact lenses. An optometrist can detect some eye problems and may prescribe medications for certain eye diseases. Either is a good option for a comprehensive eye exam. For more complicated issues, you should make an appointment with an ophthalmologist. Your family doctor can give you a recommendation.

Check out smart tips on how to find a new doctor.

How your insurance plan can help

Treatment for eye diseases such as glaucoma and cataracts are usually covered by your medical plan because they’re considered medical problems. General vision care is often offered as a separate insurance plan, such as the Aetna Vision Preferred plan, which has a network of 77,000 eye doctors.

When your doctor looks into your eyes, he sees your overall health. Whether or not you wear glasses or contacts, keeping up with regular eye exams can be an important part of preventive care.

Find out more about all of Aetna’s vision plans

About the author

Dan Winfield is a London-born writer and editor based in New York City. His goal is to stay in shape for his upcoming wedding.