We are all familiar with how eye examinations assess vision, detect vision problems, and determine an accurate prescription. While vision tests are a large part of eye exams, there are many other important tests that are performed to assess the health of the eye. During a comprehensive eye exam, the entire eye is closely evaluated, from the very front surface to the back inner portion. The health portion of an eye exam helps detect sight-threatening eye diseases, like glaucoma. It may even help evaluate overall health and systemic conditions, like high blood pressure or diabetes. Examining the retina is one of the most important parts of an eye exam.
The retina lines the inner back wall of the eye, and is responsible for collecting visual information and sending it to the brain. A healthy retina is necessary for good and clear vision. Because it is located on the inside of the eye, it is not easily seen, so special exam methods must be used. Your doctor can use different techniques to look through your pupil and all the way through the inside of the eye in order to see your retina.
Eye doctors can use a high powered microscope and specialized lenses in order to look through your pupil. In some cases, your doctor may be able to look through your small, un-dilated pupil to view a small area of your retina. In order to see a larger portion of the retina, they will likely need to use special dilating eye drops. Dilating eye drops make the pupil larger, so the doctor has a larger and wider view and can better assess the health of the tissue. These eye drops come with some mild temporary side effects, including light sensitivity and blurred vision.
New technologies are also available to help doctors see the retina easily. Retinal cameras can take pictures through the pupil and provide the doctor with a wide-field image of the back of the eye. In many cases, this can be done without the use of dilating eye drops. Retinal photos are an excellent way for doctors to monitor the health of your eye overtime, and allows them to reference how your retina looked in the years prior.
For certain conditions, dilated eye exams may be preferred over retinal photos. If you are unsure of which method you should choose, talk to your eye doctor.
As we mentioned earlier, a healthy retina is essential for good vision. Many different eye diseases can occur silently in the back of the eye that may later cause vision-threatening problems. For example, macular degeneration, glaucoma, or retinal holes all affect the back of the eye and can be detected during a thorough retinal examination. By routinely undergoing a retinal health exam, you can be sure that your doctor is monitoring you for these conditions or any complications that may arise from them.
Additionally, the retina can give clues about the overall health of the body. Conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes are known to affect the blood vessels in the retina, especially if the conditions are not well controlled. Your eye doctor can give you more information about how these diseases may be affecting your body after looking at your retina.