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5 Signs That It’s Time to See an Eye Doctor

eye exam

If you’re experiencing dry, red eyes, difficulty seeing while driving at night, sudden sensitivity to light, blurry vision, or seeing floaters, it might be time to seek out an eye doctor or ophthalmologist near you. 

Your eye health should never be put on the backburner.

Any type of eye pain or discomfort can make it hard to function, and sometimes, it can be an indicator of a more serious problem like an infection or vision-impairing condition. 

Did you know that according to the CDC, more than 3.4 million Americans aged 40 years and older are blind or visually impaired?

Many of which didn’t know they had an issue until it was too late.

“Many serious eye conditions, such as diabetic eye disease, glaucoma, or macular degeneration, are silent until too far advanced,” says Carola B. Okogbaa, MD. 

carola okogbaa
Dr. Carola B. Okogbaa, ophthalmologist

Dr. Okogbaa is a board-certified ophthalmologist, also known as an “eye doctor,” leading the St. Francis Ophthalmology clinic. Ophthalmologists specialize in performing eye surgery and diagnosing and treating eye diseases, such as cataracts, glaucoma, or macular degeneration. This is different from an optometrist, who you will see if you’re looking to change your prescription. 

Dr. Okogbaa advises that, “By getting regular eye exams, you are proactively protecting not only your vision, but your overall health, too.” 

This is because routine eye exams can reveal other underlying health issues that you may be unaware of. An ophthalmologist can detect warning signs of diabetes, hypertension, inflammatory conditions, or metastatic cancer just by looking at your eyes.

When is it time to see an eye doctor?

Eye exams are recommended annually before age 18 and after age 65, as well as every two years in between–unless you have a vision prescription or medical problem that requires more frequent attention. 

For example, patients with diabetes should get their eyes checked annually, since they are at higher risk of developing eye disease. And if you’re experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, it’s time to make an appointment with your eye specialist:

1. You are having difficulty seeing while driving at night

Night driving is a good benchmark for measuring when your vision is beginning to deteriorate. Difficulty seeing clearly or focusing while driving at night is incredibly dangerous and not something that should be taken lightly.

The solution could be as simple as a new glasses prescription, or it could be a sign of something more problematic, such as a cataract beginning to form. Either way, if you’re having trouble seeing while driving at night, you should schedule an appointment with an eye doctor as soon as possible.

2. You have chronically dry, red eyes

Eye redness is associated with a variety of conditions, including conjunctivitis (an inflammation of the conjunctiva, a thin layer of transparent tissue that covers the whites of your eyes and inner eyelids), allergies, or even an uncommon type of glaucoma. 

Broken blood vessels in the eye that cause redness usually result from straining (such as from heavy lifting, coughing, or sneezing) and do not result in permanent damage. 

“It looks very alarming, but the best thing to do is nothing—it will resolve over the next two weeks,” Dr. Okogbaa says. 

If your eyes feel sore, you could be experiencing dry eye syndrome. This is a common condition caused by contact lenses, dry climates, and certain medications. For relief, Dr. Okogbaa recommends using lubricating eye drops from the pharmacy. If that doesn’t make you feel better within 24 to 48 hours, follow up with your ophthalmologist. He or she can evaluate the best treatment for your situation.

3. You’re experiencing a sudden sensitivity to light

According to Dr. Okogbaa, sudden light sensitivity usually accompanies some kind of inflammation or irritation in the eye, which could be a precursor to eye disease. Light sensitivity should be addressed quickly, as some conditions may lead to scarring, which can become permanent. 

Light sensitivity can also be brought on by allergies, certain types of viral illness, or migraine headaches. With frequent headaches, it’s possible you could have eye strain or need a new glasses prescription. In either case, it’s important to consult with an eye doctor if you experience a sudden sensitivity to light.

4. You have blurry vision or trouble focusing on objects

If you notice a sudden change in your ability to focus on objects or blurry vision, be sure to see your ophthalmologist for a complete eye exam. It’s possible that your prescription has changed or that you’re experiencing presbyopia, which is the gradual, age-related loss of the eyes’ ability to focus actively on nearby objects. Farsightedness usually becomes noticeable in the early to mid-40s and worsens until around age 65. 

5. You’re experiencing visual distortion including floaters or shadows in your eyes

Experiencing certain types of distortion in your central field of vision, such as spots (or what doctors call “floaters”), flashes of light, or shadows, can be normal. But in some cases, this is a sign of a torn, bleeding, or detached retina causing you to see little blobs or flashing lights floating in your vision. 

A torn or detached retina is not something you want to ignore, which is why any visual distortions should prompt you to call an ophthalmologist. 

“Those conditions are easy to fix if you can get on them right away,” says Dr. Okogbaa, “but the longer that they’re there, the much more complicated treating them becomes.” 

A detached retina is considered a medical emergency because of the risk of permanent vision loss. The sudden onset of flashes of light, many new grey or black spots in your vision, or a dark shadow in your field of vision should cause you to seek medical care at the eye doctor or emergency room, according to the National Eye Institute.

If you’re experiencing any sort of eye discomfort or vision problems, it’s better to see an eye doctor sooner rather than later. To learn more about the St. Francis Ophthalmology Clinic, click here, or call 225-784-6300 to make an appointment with Dr. Okogbaa, our eye doctor.

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