Throughout life we are conditioned to see a dentist regularly. We will not hesitate to see our doctor or head to a pharmacy. Yet, when it comes to our eyes, perhaps one of our most vital organs for living a fulfilling life, many of us don’t realise the importance of having our eyes examined regularly.
There are many eye conditions to watch for and while some are more common with age, others can occur at any age. Comprehensive eye examinations, at regular intervals starting from childhood, ensure that most eye conditions can be prevented or corrected. Eye examinations can also be an important tool for determining your overall health.
Types of eye health practitioners
Getting the best care for your eyes is important. There are several different types of eye health professionals; three key ones are:
Optometrists are qualified to examine your eyes and to detect, diagnose and manage vision problems. They can often make vision clearer with glasses, contact lenses or other visual aids, or may prescribe exercises to strengthen the muscles in your eyes. They can advise and manage many aspects of your eye health including prescribing eye drops. You don’t need a referral to see an optometrist but they may refer you on to another health expert if eye disease is detected or surgery required.
Ophthalmologists are medical doctors. They have completed specialist training in surgery of the eyes. They diagnose and treat all eye diseases and perform eye surgery when necessary. A referral from an optometrist or a GP is required to obtain the Medicare rebate when seeing an ophthalmologist.
Optical dispensers are responsible for ‘dispensing’ spectacles or contact lenses received from an optometrist’s or an ophthalmologist’s prescription. They may take measurements including the distance between your pupils or heights for fitting multifocal or bifocal spectacles and adjust glasses so they fit properly to your face.
What happens in an eye examination?
When an optometrist examines your eyes, the clarity and comfort of your vision as well as the health of your eyes will be checked.
After discussing visual requirements and any problems you may have, your optometrist will use a series of tests to determine if any corrective lenses or other intervention is needed.
Some tests require you to provide a series of responses to what you see on the chart. You needn’t be concerned that you might give the ‘wrong’ answer as your optometrist will also use a range of objective measurements to ensure an accurate result.
There will also be checks to ensure that your eyes are working correctly as a team and to assess your ability to focus for near vision. The internal and external structures of your eyes will be carefully examined. Special instruments are used so that your optometrist can assess your eyes under high magnification, with special optical filters and even in 3-D.
Your optometrist will look for signs of cataract, glaucoma or macular degeneration, or other diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Sometimes medication you are taking can have side effects that can affect your eye health. Assessments of the pressure of the eyeball, fields of view and colour vision may also be done. If your optometrist detects any abnormalities, they can initiate appropriate treatment or refer you to an ophthalmologist or other appropriate health professional.
Why do I need regular eye examinations?
Many eye diseases occur slowly, over years, and sometimes without any obvious signs or symptoms.
Regular check-ups make detection more achievable, enabling prompt treatment and a better chance of controlling the disease and preventing loss of vision.
Regular checks can also ensure you are making the most of your vision for work, play and everyday life. Providing your optometrist with details about your hobbies, lifestyle and sporting activities, as well as your computer and device usage, can help in ensuring that you receive the best possible eye care.
Medicare rebates are available for most eye examinations, but the availability of bulk-billing may vary between practitioners.
Ask your optometrist to confirm if there will be any out of pocket costs to you for services provided when making your appointment. If you have particular concerns, or would like to discuss options such as bulk-billing, you should let your practitioner know beforehand.
If you have private health insurance with optical benefits cover, you may be eligible for subsidised prescription glasses or contact lenses. If you are unsure of your private health rebate, contact your private health insurer. Private health insurance rebates are not available for non-prescription sunglasses.