Occasional eye problems are a fact of life, especially for those of us who wear contacts or glasses. But while you don’t want to run to the doctor with every little issue, there are certain seemingly minor symptoms that could be red flags for serious health problems. In honor of Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month in April, we checked in with Daniel L. Mannen, OD, FAAO, a VSP Vision Care optometrist in St. Helens, Ore., to get his view on the symptoms that warrant a professional assessment. In general, he says, “any extraordinary changes in clarity or your field of vision, as well as any pain, should be evaluated ASAP.” And that means a visit to an eye care pro, specifically. “Eye doctors are uniquely trained and equipped to properly evaluate, diagnose and treat eye conditions,” he says. “If you have an eye-specific problem, you need an eye-specific doctor.”
Even when people think they have perfect vision, Mannen says, it’s important to establish an ongoing relationship with an eye doctor via annual checkups. “When a doctor is familiar with a patient, he or she can give a more personalized exam,” he says. “Our eyes are important, and our vision is precious. A long-term relationship with your eye doctor helps you see well and live your life to the fullest.” Affordable individual vision care programs like VSP Individual Vision Plans help facilitate that connection with low copays for annual eye exams and access to the largest doctor network in the nation. During comprehensive eye exams, eye doctors can detect signs of serious conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure years before symptoms appear.
Don’t wait for your annual exam, though, if you have one of these five symptoms—they may seem innocent, but they could signal the beginnings of a serious vision problem.
A few stray specks in your field of vision—otherwise known as floaters—are not a big deal. “The fluid inside our eyes is not crystal clear,” says Mannen. “The concern comes when we see new and different floaters from what we normally see.” New floaters could be symptoms of a detached retina, hemorrhage or other serious conditions. If they persist, Mannen says, see an optometrist or ophthalmologist for a dilated eye exam to rule out any vision-threatening issues.
Flashes in your peripheral vision can indicate damage to the retina, the lining of the inner eye, which thins as you age, Mannen says. Flashes—especially if accompanied by new floaters or any change in your field of vision—should be evaluated ASAP by your eye doctor to rule out serious issues such as hemorrhage or detachment.
If you feel like you’re peering through clouds—and you’re in pain as well—call your doctor, STAT. This can be a symptom of closed-angle glaucoma, which occurs when fluid drainage from the eye is impaired, leading to a quick rise in intraocular pressure and threatening your vision. “Fogginess with pain should be considered an emergency and requires immediate evaluation by your eye doctor,” Mannen says. Other conditions like cataracts and hemorrhage can cause foggy vision and blurred vision. If blurring persists, Mannen recommends seeing an eye care professional.
Common sense is your best guide when dealing with eye trauma—an elbow to the eye during a basketball game, say, or even a slipped mascara wand. “The eye is uniquely protected by the bony orbit but still can be injured, threatening your vision,” Mannen says. “Further, injuries on the inside cannot be seen from the outside without the dilation that occurs during a comprehensive eye exam.” Persistent discomfort from trauma or debris should be evaluated by your eye doctor.
If your vision goes dark for five to 10 minutes and then returns, don’t let it slide. “Such episodes should be considered a key warning of the potential for stroke, as they are often caused by temporary vascular obstruction,” Mannen says. “Bottom line: Such occurrences are not normal. They need to be taken seriously, and a cardiovascular evaluation is recommended.”
VSP Individual Vision Plans is the individual vision insurance product vision insurance for individuals provided through VSP Vision Care, offering affordable and high-quality individual vision benefits directly to consumers. Individual vision coverage includes an annual eye exam with a low copayment, allowance for glasses or contacts, and access to the largest doctor network in the industry with 34,000 eye doctors—all backed by a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. VSP Individual Vision Plans offers the lowest out-of-pocket costs in individual vision care and a typical annual savings of $235 a year.