There are two types of people in this world: Those who go to eye exams right on schedule, even if it's with a sense of begrudging duty, and those who…don’t. If you fall into the latter group, we get it. It’s so, so easy to ignore the fact that the human body is not bionic and does, in fact, need regular maintenance.
But we’re also not going to lie about how important it is to show up to your eye exams just the way you would to a date with someone you’re kind of obsessed with. You should be obsessed with your eyes, too! Here are eight signs you should go get them examined.
1. Your eyes are incredibly dry.
If it feels like tiny, evil elves have used tiny, evil vacuums to suck all the moisture from your eyeballs, there’s a solid chance you could have dry eye. This condition happens when you don’t produce sufficient tears, according to the National Eye Institute(NEI). As its name implies, dry eye can make your eyes feel super parched. It can also cause symptoms like scratchiness, burning, stinging, redness, discharge, and pain. Don’t ignore these signs that something’s wrong.
“Dry eye is a very common issue that can progress to a very significant issue if not managed appropriately,” JP Maszczak, O.D., assistant professor of clinical optometry at the Ohio State University College of Optometry, tells SELF. For instance, having untreated dry eye predisposes you to eye infections, the Mayo Clinic explains.
When you go in for your eye exam, your doctor can try to figure out what’s causing your dry eye. Factors such as regularly being in a windy, smoky, or dry environment, seasonal allergies, certain medications like decongestants, and being in front of a digital screen a lot can contribute, the NEI says). Then your doctor can recommend ways to add moisture back into your eyes.
2. You’re having a harder time seeing things.
“Decreased vision is a definite sign that you should have your eyes checked,” Vatinee Bunya, M.D., co-director of the Penn Dry Eye & Ocular Surface Center, tells SELF. There could be a few things going on here, she says. It may be as simple as you needing glasses or needing to update your glasses or contacts prescription. Or you could be dealing with dry eye (which can blur your vision) or a vision-threatening illness like glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that damage your optic nerve, which allows you to see by transmitting visual messages to your brain, the Mayo Clinic explains. Experts know the damage usually happens because fluid in the eye builds up and compresses the nerve, but they don’t fully understand why this buildup occurs, according to the Mayo Clinic.
While glaucoma tends to happen in older adults, it can happen to people of any age. Besides decreased vision, glaucoma can cause patchy blind spots in your side or central vision, severe headaches, eye pain, blurry vision, seeing halos around lights, and eye redness, the Mayo Clinic says—and it can also lead to irreversible vision loss. Regular eye exams can help detect glaucoma early enough to prevent or slow a loss of eyesight.
Even if your vision got a little funky for a bit but clears up, it’s a good idea to see your eye doctor, Carolyn M. Duong, O.D., an ophthalmologist in the Cataract and Refractive Surgery Division at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, tells SELF. “You’ll want to come in for a full workup to see what’s going on and make sure your eye health is good,” she says.
3. You have double vision.
Seeing double can be pretty freaky, but it could just be that you need glasses or a better prescription for your glasses or contacts, Dr. Duong says.
Double vision can also indicate a problem with the muscles that control your eye movement, problems with the shape of your cornea (the thin membrane covering part of the front of your eye), cataracts (when the lens of your eye gets cloudy), and more, according to Merck Manual. If you’re having double vision but no other symptoms, get to your eye doctor to get checked out. If you’re experiencing double vision along with symptoms like trouble speaking, paralysis or numbness on one side of your body, and trouble walking, go to the emergency room immediately. Double vision can also be a sign of a stroke, the Mayo Clinic says, so if your double vision comes with these kinds of symptoms, you don’t want to wait around to see an eye doctor.
4. Your peripheral vision is off.
Your peripheral vision allows you to give side eye and is thus crucial to, well, life. Seriously, though, if you see patchy spots in your peripheral vision, it’s suddenly blocked off a little, or you can’t use your peripheral vision at all, you should see your eye doctor immediately, Dr. Bunya says.
This could happen as a result of glaucoma, the Mayo Clinic points out. It could also be a sign of retinal detachment, which is when your retina (the thin, light-filtering layer of tissue at the back of your eye) recedes from its proper position, the Mayo Clinic says. This can happen due to things like age or an eye injury, and it separates your retinal cells from the layer of blood vessels that give your retina oxygen and nutrients.
The longer this detachment goes untreated, the higher your risk of lasting vision loss in that eye. Other symptoms of retinal detachment to keep in mind: seeing floaters (little flecks wafting through the air), having flashes of light in one or both eyes, blurry vision, and seeing a curtain-like shadow over your vision, according to the Mayo Clinic.
5. You are experiencing eye pain.
Sure, your eyes may feel a little uncomfortable here and there. But “any eye pain lasting longer than 24 hours, even if mild, should be investigated by an eye care provider,” Dr. Maszczak says.
Possible causes include dry eye, an inflammatory condition like iritis (an inflammation of the colored part of your eye, which can happen due to something like an injury), a corneal abrasion (oof, this is a cut on your cornea, no thank you), an infection, or a bit of matter actually being lodged in your eyeball, Dr. Maszczak says. Point is, a long list of things can cause this symptom, meaning you shouldn’t just assume you know what it is. An eye doctor can help you find out for sure.
6. Your eyes are constantly pink or red.
OK, so if you constantly have red eyes after staying up too late, the root of your problem is pretty obvious. Otherwise, persistently red eyes are usually a sign that something with your eye health is off, Dr. Duong says. “A good general rule is to have your eyes examined by an eye care provider for any redness persisting beyond 24 hours,” Dr. Maszczak says.
This can be due to dry eye (shocker, right?) or an inflammatory condition like iritis, Dr. Maszczak says. Conjunctivitis (commonly known as pink eye) can also be a common cause, Dr. Bunya says. Clearly its nickname is right on target.
Pink eye is an inflammation or infection of the transparent membrane (conjunctiva) that lines your eyelid and covers the white part of your eyeball, the Mayo Clinic says. It can happen due to allergies, viruses, bacteria, or irritation from something like a foreign object in your eye. Along with eye redness, it can cause itchiness, a gritty feeling, discharge, and tearing—all things that should send you to an eye doctor stat.
7. Your eyes are tearing up a lot.
Dry eye is a surprising potential factor that can cause excessively watery eyes. “Your eyes are so dry, your tear glands are trying to help rectify this,” Dr. Duong says.
Your eyes could also be tearing up from pink eye, a problem with your cornea, or a blockage in the drainage system for your tears, Dr. Maszczak says. Basically, it’s really, really hard to know what’s going on—and land on the proper treatment—unless you see your eye doctor.
8. It’s been forever and a day since your last eye exam.
Even if your eyes feel like perfection, you need to see your eye doctor regularly. That’s the only way to detect and get ahead of conditions like glaucoma that can progress without you realizing it, Dr. Bunya says.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) breaks down eye exam recommendations by age. Babies should be screened once between 6 and 12 months, kids should be checked once between ages 3 and 5, and 6- to 18-year-olds should be examined every year provided they don’t have any eye-related symptoms. After you turn 18 and through the age of 64, you should get your eyes examined at least every two years, the AOA says. Once you hit 65, it’s recommended you get checked out every year.
Keep in mind that if you wear glasses or contacts, your prescription will likely expire every year, meaning you should see your eye doctor more frequently than once every two years. Same goes if you have any other eye health issues, like a family history of cataracts.
So, yes, pencil your eye exam into your calendar. Consider it a can’t-miss date with your eyes, and stick to it.