What is an ophthalmologist?
An ophthalmologist – Eye M.D. – is a medical or osteopathic doctor who specializes in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are specially trained to provide the full spectrum of eye care, from prescribing glasses and contact lenses to complex and delicate eye surgery. Many ophthalmologists are also involved in scientific research into the causes and cures for eye diseases and vision problems.
When should I see an ophthalmologist?
You should have your eyes examined by an ophthalmologist if you have any of these signs or risk factors for eye disease:
- decreased vision, even if temporary;
- distorted vision;
- new floaters (black “strings” or specks in
the vision) and/or flashes of light;
- a curtain or veil blocking vision;
- haloes (colored circles around lights);
- an eye injury or eye pain;
- red eye;
- bulging of one or both eyes;
- misaligned eyes;
- double vision;
- loss of peripheral (side) vision;
- high blood pressure
- diabetes mellitus;
- thyroid disease-related eye problems
- a family history of eye disease;
- excess tearing;
- eyelid abnormalities;
Based on the examination, your ophthalmologist will let you know how often to return for follow-up exams.
Because of an increased risk for glaucoma, people of African or Hispanic descent should see an ophthalmologist even if they have no other signs of or risk factors for eye disease. Your ophthalmologist will let you know how often to return for follow-up exams.
You should also see an ophthalmologist if your primary care provider or optometrist refers you to one.
When you have no particular problems or risk factors, recommended intervals for eye exams are:
Newborn, pre-school and pre-teen: Eye exams should be given by a pediatrician, family doctor or ophthalmologist at the following intervals:
- newborn to 3 months
- 6 months to 1 year
- 3 years old
- 5 years old
- later as needed
Adults 20 to 64 years of age: Adults with no signs or risk factors for eye disease should get an eye disease screening at age 40—the time when early signs of disease and changes in vision may start to happen. Based on the results of the initial screening, your ophthalmologist will let you know how often to return for follow-up exams.
Adults 65 years or older: Every one to two years, as recommended by your ophthalmologist.
What happens during an eye examination?
Your ophthalmologist and his or her assistants ask about your current symptoms and review your medical history. Eye drops to dilate your eyes may or may not be used during the exam. The examination typically evaluates:
- visual acuity;
- need for eyeglasses or contact lenses (refraction);
- eyelid health and function;
- coordination of eye muscles;
- pupil response to light;
- side (peripheral) vision;
- intraocular pressure (pressure inside
- the anterior segment in the eye (the area
in front of the lens, including the cornea
- the interior and back of the eye.
What treatments are available for my eyes?
Your ophthalmologist will discuss the results of your eye examination with you. If your eyes are healthy, you may need only eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct your vision. Or you may not need any vision correction at all.
Some eye diseases are treated with medication, such as eye drops or pills. Other diseases may require laser surgery or other surgical procedures.
Your ophthalmologist can provide you with the treatment you need or, in some cases, may refer you to a subspecialist.
Some eye conditions cannot be cured. Nevertheless, your ophthalmologist can offer counseling and support while monitoring your condition.
Good medical care is based on a cooperative relationship between you and your doctor.
You should trust your ophthalmologist to give you accurate information about your eye problem and tell you about the risks and benefits of treatment options. You should also trust your ophthalmologist to keep your personal information confidential and to provide care with courtesy and respect. Your role in this cooperative relationship is to ask your ophthalmologist questions about your problem and treatment options and tell him or her about any other health factors that may affect your condition.
Loss of sight can be prevented!
Many eye diseases do not cause symptoms for months or years. Therefore, regular visits to your ophthalmologist are as important as regular visits to your family physician. In many cases, early treatment of glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, crossed eyes and some forms of macular degeneration can prevent loss of sight and even blindness.
Together, you and your ophthalmologist can work toward the goal of protecting your sight through early diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions