For about 1 in 3 Americans who have blurry vision, or for the 150 million who wear eyeglasses, knowing when to go to the eye doctor isn’t always a simple answer. While most people follow the standard guideline of “one visit annually” there are many more reasons to visit the eye doctor. Some are obvious, some are more obscure, but all of them require your attention. Taking care of your eyes as problems arise, or better yet before they arise, is key to maintaining clear vision and healthy eyes throughout your life.

The below tips help outline some specific signs that let you know you should probably schedule a visit with your eye doctor. However, you are the best sign. If you sense that something isn’t right with your eyes or your vision, don’t wait for other signs to show up. If something isn’t right, you should visit your eye doctor as soon as possible. This will help prevent problems from worsening and make potential treatments more successful.

When To Ditch The Annual Visit For A Sooner One

Just because you have an appointment with your eye doctor scheduled annually doesn’t mean you have to wait and go then. Here are some of the top reasons:

Eye infection or discharge: It should seem fairly obvious, but if you have an eye infection or notice that there is discharge or “crust” in your eye then it’s time for a visit to your eye doctor. Vision problems aren’t the only reason for a visit. Eye infections can be contagious and cause permanent damage if left untreated. Persistent itchiness, redness, or unusual discharge can all be signs of an eye infection.

Changing or worsening vision

Another obvious one. If you notice changes in your vision, don’t wait for that appointment that’s schedule three months from now. The longer you wait and look at things with blurry vision, the more strain you put on your eyes. This can actually worsen your vision even more if it goes on for long enough. If you notice more squinting, trouble reading or seeing things far away, or things are fuzzy, stop in for a checkup.

Frequent headaches

Headaches can happen for many reasons. Changes in your eye are often a cause of frequent headaches though. If you notice that you are having more headaches or migraines, visiting the eye doctor can be a great way to help figure out what is going on.

Floaters or black spots

Seeing a few floaters in your vision every once in a while is nothing to worry about. However, if you start noticing more of them or if they are accompanied by black spots in your vision, flashes of light, or loss of peripheral vision, you may have a serious condition. These symptoms relate to retinal detachment, a disease that can lead to permanent blindness if not treated quickly.

Decreased night vision

For adults, trouble seeing while driving at night is one of the first signs of vision change. If you have trouble making out signs in the dim light, see halos around lights, or can’t see your dog in the yard, you’re having trouble with night vision. This could be an early sign of cataracts, so a visit to the eye doctor is a good idea.

Other health diagnosis that affects the eyes

Lots of other diseases and conditions can affect your eyes, even if they aren’t directly related. For example, if you are diagnosed with diabetes, lupus, or a thyroid condition, your eyes could be affected. In this case, you should consult with your eye doctor to prevent problems down the road and to form a long-term treatment plan. Be sure to mention the diagnosis to the eye doctor during your visit.

Light sensitivity

If you have developed a new sensitivity to light or are noticing that you are more sensitive than usual, this may be a sign of a more serious problem. Unwarranted light sensitivity can be a sign of an infection, corneal abrasion, or even meningitis. An eye doctor can perform an eye exam to see what is causing your sensitivity and then help treat it.

Difficulty focusing eyesight

New or worsening difficulty focusing on objects can be a sign of worsening eyesight. Some older individuals have trouble with this in certain low-light situations, such as looking at the menu in a dimly-lit restaurant. Or, it could be due to things like small print or looking at a screen for too long. While this can be totally normal, you should still schedule a visit with your eye doctor to double check.

A General Timeline For Eye Exam Visits

Yes, we just said that you should toss the calendar out the window. But, if you aren’t having new or specific eye problems, you still need to check in with your eye doctor on a regular basis. However, depending on your age and race, this number can vary. The timeline below gives you a good idea of when you should get a complete eye exam, even if you aren’t having other problems.

By following this timeline, or one similar, you give your eyes the best chance of staying healthy into your old age. Healthy eyes are happy eyes, and happy eyes mean a happy you.

American Optometric Association guidelines recommends the following

Age 19-39 Years Old

If you fall into this age range, you should get an eye exam every 2 years or if you are at risk annually unless your eye doctor recommends more frequently.

Age 40-64 Years Old

If you fall into this age range, you should have a complete eye exam done every 2 years, or if you are at risk annually unless your eye doctor recommends more frequently.

Age 65+ Years Old

If you fall into this age range, you should have a complete eye exam done every years, regardless of race or gender.

Special Considerations

If you have a condition like diabetes, previous eye trauma, or family history of glaucoma, you should get an eye exam more frequently. Most people suggest that you visit once a year if you fall into the category of these or other special considerations.