How to Prepare for a Visit to the Eye Doctor

A visit to the optometrist can help your vision and overall health

Optometrist in exam room with woman looking into machine
By + More

William Shakespeare once said the eyes are the window to your soul. For optometrists, the eyes are a window to your health.

You shouldn't wait to see an eye doctor until you have problems with your eyesight. An optometrist can help improve your vision and determine whether you're at risk for other conditions such as stroke, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, brain tumors and multiple sclerosis. An ophthalmologist is similar to an optometrist, but can perform surgery for patients who have problems such as cataracts or glaucoma.

For insight into how to prepare for an eye doctor appointment, U.S. News turned to Justin Bazan, an optometrist who practices in Brooklyn, N.Y. In addition to bringing your contacts or glasses to your appointment, you should think about whether your eyesight has changed, you feel any discomfort or pain, and if you may need a second pair of lenses. Below are some questions to ask to yourself and an eye doctor that can lead not only to better vision, but better overall health.

[Search U.S. News Top-Ranked Hospitals for Opthalmology.]

How do I use my eyes?

Using digital devices causes eye strain. More than a third of U.S. adults report using their devices four to six hours a day, and 14 percent of Americans use them for 10 to 12 hours, according to the Vision Council, the trade association for the optical industry.

If you work in front of a computer all day, assess how far your screen is from your face and how often you take breaks. At what point in the day do your eyes get tired? Do you give your eyes a rest by staring into the distance every once in a while? Do you read in bed from an iPad or watch TV late at night with the lights out? How often do you check your smartphone? Think about your lifestyle ahead of time so you can come prepared to your appointment.

If you work outside all day, let your eye doctor know. "Nothing is more naturally damaging to our eyes than ultraviolet radiation," Bazan says. UV light penetrates through the eye and can cause causing, red patches and cancer. Your eyes can also get sunburned, which results in redness, a gritty feeling in the eye or temporary blindness, according to the American Optometric Association. Cataracts, a cloudy, yellow film that develops over the lens of the eye, can be caused by extreme exposure to sunlight, but it also can develop as you age. Those who smoke or have diabetes are considered to be at a greater risk. To protect yourself from UV rays, make sure to wear sunglasses when you're outside.

[Read: How to Manage Type 1 Diabetes as You Age.]

Do I ever have burning, itchiness or tearing?

An eye doctor will ask whether you have any of these symptoms. Do not assume that you just tend to have dry eyes. You could have signs of ocular surface disease, or dry eye, which can lead to intense pain and tearing. Your eye could also be inflamed or infected. For women, dry eyes could be a side effect of birth control.

When people stare at a screen all day, the number of times they blink dramatically decreases, which puts a strain on the tear ducts and can lead to dry eye. Patients who use contacts must make sure their contacts stay hydrated so their eyes stay healthy and comfortable, Bazan says. Be honest with your optometrist if you have poor contact hygiene, such as using the same pair for longer than your doctor suggests or regularly falling asleep while you are still wearing them. These kinds of habits can lead to eye infections.

Do I see as well as I used to?

As you age, your eyes age too, and your visual needs change, Bazan says. Patients between ages 35 and 45 begin to notice their eyes can't focus as well as they used to. They may hold their menus and phones farther away and have more difficulty keeping computer screens in focus. Gradual vision loss can be something patients don't recognize until they look through glasses or contacts, Bazan says. Going for a checkup every year or two can be the best way to maximize vision.