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What Diseases Can Be Detected in an Eye Exam?

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A female optometrist is using a slit lamp to examine a male patient's eyes

Your vision is a precious thing, and that’s just one reason why regular eye exams are so important. When you’re visiting your optometrist, though, they’re doing so much more than just checking your visual clarity. They’re also looking for plenty of different potential eye conditions that can affect your life.

During an eye exam, your optometrist is checking for conditions like glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy. These conditions all showcase symptoms in different ways, so you can expect a series of different tests to be performed. This way, your optometrist can determine what may be causing your vision problems, and recommend treatment if necessary.

Why Are Eye Exams So Important?

The importance of regular eye exams can’t be overstated. While many people think a regular eye exam is just about checking your vision, this isn’t true; your optometrist uses these exams as a way to check all kinds of different things inside the eye.

They’re able to monitor any changes since your last visit to determine your:

  • Visual clarity
  • Eye health
  • Overall health

The eyes are extremely sensitive, so they often showcase signs when something is wrong—signs that your optometrist is trained to look for. It’s about a lot more than your visual clarity; it’s about your health overall.

What Are Optometrists Looking for During an Eye Exam?

During an eye exam, your optometrist will examine various parts inside and outside the eye to check for any abnormalities. From your cornea to your optic nerve, your retina to your tear film, the eye can be extremely complex. Your optometrist will be meticulously looking at each structure and mechanism to determine if you’re at risk of conditions like:

  • Glaucoma
  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Cataracts
  • Diabetic retinopathy

These are just some of the conditions that can be detected during an eye exam.


Glaucoma is often referred to as the ‘silent thief of sight’ because it progresses without warning symptoms. It’s a group of different eye conditions characterized by a buildup of intraocular pressure that can eventually damage the optic nerve, leading to permanent vision loss.

To look for glaucoma, your optometrist will examine the optic nerve and check your peripheral vision.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is a condition that damages a part of the retina called the “macula.” This is the part of the eye responsible for clear and sharp central vision. When AMD begins to develop, the center of your vision becomes blurry and distorted. Straight lines may appear wavy, and you may develop blind spots.

Early detection of AMD is essential because there’s no cure for this progressive disease. To look for this condition, your optometrist will perform a series of tests to examine the retina and check for signs of degeneration or damage.

An older female patient covering her left eye with her left hand as the optometrist examines her other eye


Cataracts are cloudy areas that develop in the clear lens of your eye. This clouding can eventually interfere with vision, leading to foggy areas in your vision and colour distortion. They develop due to proteins clumping together in the eye and are closely linked with the aging process.

Cataracts are extremely common, and can fortunately be treated with a simple surgery that replaces your eye’s natural lens. To detect a cataract, your optometrist will examine the lens and check for any signs of clouding.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes is an extremely complicated complication that can affect blood vessels all throughout the body—including those located at the back of the eye. When it begins to affect the eye, it’s called “diabetic retinopathy.”

When diabetic retinopathy develops, existing blood vessels can become weaker, eventually leaking fluids or blood into the eye. In extreme cases, it can cause new blood vessels to begin to grow, burst, and leak fluids. This can eventually lead to permanent vision loss.

During an eye exam, your optometrist will be looking for any signs of damaged blood vessels or fluid leakage. Adults living with diabetes should try to visit their optometrist at least once a year, or more if recommended; diabetic retinopathy can cause permanent damage to your eyes, so it may help to visit more regularly.

How Often Should You Book an Eye Exam?

When it comes to scheduling an eye exam for yourself or a loved one, there are a few key pieces of information to know. To begin, there are three primary types of eye exams: children’s eye exams, adult and senior eye exams, and diabetic eye exams.

Children’s Eye Exams

If you have any children, they should visit the optometrist for a children’s eye exam around the age of 6 months or so. Their next visit should occur before they start school, and then annual visits are recommended until around the age of 20.

As your child grows, their vision is going to be constantly changing, and their eyes will be constantly adjusting. Regular children’s eye exams are essential to monitoring these changes; they let an optometrist address any problems while the eye is still developing.

Adult & Senior Eye Exams

For adults, there are a few guidelines. It’s recommended to visit your optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam at least:

  • Once every 2-3 years or so for adults between 20-39 years old
  • Once every 2 years for adults between 40-64 years old
  • Once every year for adults over the age of 65

If you have any pre-existing vision conditions or have noticed any recent changes in your vision or eyes, it can help to visit more regularly.

Diabetic Eye Exams

Because diabetes can cause significant damage to the eyes, it’s essential to regularly schedule eye exams if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes. It can help to visit the optometrist for a comprehensive diabetic eye exam at least once a year so they can closely monitor your eyes.

Your optometrist may recommend more frequent visits if they’re concerned about how diabetes could be affecting your eyes. It’s essential to follow any instructions they provide for scheduling your exams so you can preserve your vision.

Eye Care in SW Calgary

If you’re in the Calgary area and need a comprehensive eye exam, reach out to our team here at Eye Effects. Our team of experienced optometrists is here to help you with your vision needs. Book an appointment with our team, and let’s take care of your vision—together!

Written by Dr. Jeffrey Waddell

Dr. Jeffrey Waddell is a graduate of the University of Alberta and the Pacific University College of Optometry. He has practiced optometry since 2002. He has practiced optometry all over the United States and Canada, and in Calgary since 2013. Dr. Waddell enjoys spending time in the great outdoors with his wife Alanna, and three children and two dogs. Dr. Waddell has a special interest in pediatrics, dry eye treatment, contact lenses and eye nutrition.
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