Why You Need a Dilated Eye Exam

What could be more precious than the gift of sight? Yet, many people fail to take the proper steps to preserve the health of their eyes by getting regular dilated retinal exams. Most adults should have an exam every two to four years, while people over sixty-five should have them yearly. Those at high risk for glaucoma or who have diabetes should have a dilated eye exam even more frequently. Why is a dilated retinal exam so important? Not only can it detect serious eye disease in its early stages, this test can also reveal the presence of other disorders unrelated to the eyes. Being able to visualize the retina can lead to a wealth of information about overall health. What are some diseases that can be detected by a dilated retinal exam?

Eye Diseases

A dilated retinal exam allows early diagnosis of several eye diseases that can ultimately lead to blindness. It can pick up small tears in the retina, the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. In some cases, a small retinal tear presents with no symptoms and is detected only on a dilated retinal exam. If not diagnosed and treated, a small tear can lead to complete detachment of the retina, a condition that can cause blindness.

Another eye condition - macular degeneration - can be detected on a dilated retinal exam. This occurs when light-sensitive cells in the central area of vision are destroyed — leading to loss of vision in the center of the eye. Although this condition doesn't lead to complete blindness, it can cause a dramatic reduction in visual acuity by reducing peripheral vision.

Other eye diseases that can be detected through a dilated eye exam are cataracts and glaucoma. A separate test that measures intraocular pressure is used to diagnose glaucoma. It can also detect disease of the optic nerve, the nerve that carries information from the retina to the brain.

Non-eye Diseases

Many other diseases also cause changes to the retina and can be visualized on a dilated eye exam. A retinal exam can give clues to the presence of systemic disease. One non-eye disease that frequently causes changes to the retina is diabetes. The most common diabetic eye condition, diabetic retinopathy, occurs when the vessels in the back of the eye leak fluid. Overtime, this fluid leakage can lead to serious visual problems and even blindness. This is why diabetics are urged to get a yearly dilated retinal exam.

By getting a yearly dilated retinal exam, these changes can be detected early and treated before serious visual loss occurs.