As much as 70 percent of all sensory receptors are in our eyes, making them the most important pair of sensory organs. However, the care that they usually get does not match their sensitive role in our life.
Most people consult an ophthalmologist only when they face issues with their eyes, or often at a point when damage to the eye would have become inevitable.
In extreme cases, co-morbidities like diabetes and hypertension are known to cause severe and irreparable damage to the retina.
Ideally, how often should we get our eyes examined?
“The frequency of ocular examinations should be based on the presence of visual abnormalities and the probability of visual abnormalities developing” – American Academy of Ophthalmology.
A short answer would be – as frequently as advised by the doctor. But even then, a regimen must be followed. And the key factors that decide this regimen are age, complications in case of premature birth, family history of conditions like glaucoma and complications due to chronic conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.
Taking them into account, here is a handy guide to when we should get our eyes checked.
Eye check-up frequency based on age
Age plays a key factor when it comes to eye check-ups. Health agencies like the World Health Organization and the National Health Service, UK, recommend that healthy individuals in the age band of 18-64 years should get their eyes checked at least once every two years. However, eye experts recommend an annual check-up.
Human eyes do not stay the same size from birth to death. In children and teenagers, visual acuity fluctuates more than in adults, making it essential that they get tested more often.
“Children tend to grow up fast and so do their eyes,” says Dr Piyush Tewari, ophthalmologist at Tewari Eye Centre, Delhi. “If their eye power is stable, then we recommend a check-up once a year. But if it fluctuates, we see the patient after (every) three months or six months depending on the circumstances.”
Those above 60 years of age should ideally get their eyes checked annually, whether they are at risk or in perfect health. It is not only about changing the spectacle lenses when the vision defect changes. It is important to take a holistic approach to the problem.
Spotting signs of vision problems
Failing to do so, when one sees their child having trouble reading books, or refraining from going for outdoor activities. These are tell-tale signs of an early onset of eye diseases that can be diagnosed and treated in time.
“Many a time parents don’t notice that their child is having vision problems. Most eye health issues are found accidentally,” says Dr R. Kim, Chief Medical Officer, Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai.
“Once the child starts going to school and complains of not being able to see clearly from the back of the classroom, only then do they [the parents] realise that their child has eye problems,” Dr. Kim said.
He adds that children born prematurely are at higher risk of developing retinopathy and such children should be ideally checked within the first four weeks of birth.
Eye test frequency for those with diabetes and hypertension
“Individuals who do not have symptoms but who are at a high risk of developing ocular abnormalities – either related to systemic diseases such as diabetes mellitus and hypertension or who have a family history of eye disease – require periodic comprehensive eye examinations to prevent or minimise visual loss,” says Dr Tewari.
Diabetic Retinopathy is a chronic condition that damages the optic nerve and the retina. A study conducted in 2008 by the Centre for Disease Control showed that as many as one in three people in the US have diabetic retinopathy. Close to a million people the world over lose their vision to diabetic retinopathy. It continues to be a leading cause of blindness the world over.
Hypertension is another problem, which when left uncontrolled, affects organs ranging from renal and cardiovascular to cerebrovascular systems. Eyes are another organ to suffer its adverse effects. This multi-organ targeting is known as target organ damage.
Hypertensive retinopathy is a condition caused by high blood pressure, where blood vessels in the retina are damaged. It is classified into four grades based on increasing levels of its severity. Severe grades of retinopathy are early indicators of other issues in the human body, from renal morbidity to acute cerebrovascular events.
The cause of vision loss is either due to retinal pigmentary changes or secondary to optic atrophy, neither of which is reversible. 
Eye test frequency for those at risk of glaucoma
Individuals with a family history of glaucoma are another risk group. The ocular nerve is damaged in people affected by glaucoma – which would have caused differences in intraocular pressure. They need to see the ophthalmologist once every year even if the symptoms have not started showing up. Early intervention can save the sight.
Steps to maintain healthy eye health
When it comes to those with diabetic retinopathy and hypertensive retinopathy, prevention proves better than the cure. Here are a few steps one can take to maintain eye health.
- Getting regular eye check-ups
- Eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet
- Avoiding the use of tobacco
- At least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day
- Monitoring and maintaining a healthy level of blood pressure
- Managing blood sugar at healthy levels
- Reducing salt intake to less than 5g per day
- Reducing or stopping consumption of alcohol
- Limiting the intake of saturated fats
- Reducing and managing stress
With regular check-ups, any co-morbidity like diabetes or hypertension can also be diagnosed, and one can also learn how to manage it.