Windows to Your Health: The Importance of Routine Eye Exams

Understand the difference between a visual screening and a comprehensive eye exam and how your eye health can reflect your overall well-being.

When it comes to scheduling preventive health appointments, eye exams are often overlooked. At best, people usually assume a basic visual screening will suffice; however, seeing a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist for comprehensive exams is important for everyone’s overall health. The following describes the main differences between a screening and an exam and how your overall well-being can benefit from “keeping an eye on” the health of your eyes.

Vision Screenings vs. Eye Exams

  • Vision screenings are quick, inexpensive tests performed by volunteers or nurses to check for abnormal visual acuity and major vision problems. During a screening, individuals are asked to identify tiers of letters from 20 feet away. Often, the screening will test both eyes together and each eye individually. When someone tests lower than a 20/40 level, they are referred to an eye care professional for corrective lenses, contacts, or medical treatment.
  • Comprehensive eye exams are performed by optometrists or ophthalmologists and include a vision screening in addition to a series of tests to evaluate the health of your eyes. During an exam, each eye is examined for signs of serious eye issues such as glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, and detached retinas, among other conditions. Receiving regular eye exams regardless of vision acuity can help detect serious eye problems at the earliest stage ─ when they are most treatable. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) suggests the following frequencies for adult eye exams based on age:

  • 20s and 30s: every 5-10 years
  • 40 to 54: every 2-4 years
  • 55 to 64: every 1-3 years
  • 65+: every 1-2 years

Individuals with the following conditions are exceptions to the prior recommendations:

  • Exhibit serious vision trouble or eye discomfort
  • Wear corrective lenses
  • Have a family history of eye disease
  • Have a chronic disease that increases the risk of eye disease

For children, the AAO recommends:

  • Initial screening between 6 and 12 months of age
  • Routine eye health and vision screenings throughout childhood to help detect any abnormalities as their eyes develop
  • Visual screening and ocular alignment evaluations every 1-2 years for school-aged children

Eye Exams Can Help Identify Other Health Problems 

A licensed doctor will use your eye evaluation to indicate your overall health. Close evaluation of the blood vessels in the eye can help detect major health problems, including:

  • Diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is identified by blood vessels in the retina of the eyes leaking blood or yellow fluid.
  • Hypertension. Tears or bends in blood vessels in the eye may identify high blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol. A yellow tint or ring around the cornea may signify high cholesterol.
  • Thyroid disease. Graves Disease, or bulging or protruding eyeballs, is a sign of thyroid problems.
  • Autoimmune disorders. Eye inflammation can be a sign of an autoimmune disorder such as lupus.
  • Cancer. Unusual eye structure can be a sign of ocular melanoma (eye cancer), and close observation of the eyelids can detect basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer).
  • Tumors. Irregular shaped pupils or droopy eyelids could signify a neck tumor or an aneurism.

 Regardless of how keen your eyesight is, scheduling regular eye exams according to the AAO’s recommendations is a great way to stay on top of your overall health. 


7 Health Problems Eye Exams Can Help Detect. (n.d.). Your Sight Matters. Retrieved from

Frequency of Ocular Examinations – 2015. (2015, March). American Academy of Ophthalmology. Retrieved from 

Heiting, G. Visual Screenings vs. Eye Exams: Why Are Eye Exams Important? (2017, August). All About Vision. Retrieved from