Main Content

When Should You See an Ophthalmologist?

It is important to treat our eyes with care throughout our lives.  Ignoring changes in vision or skipping eye examinations puts our most precious faculty at risk.

The Canadian Ophthalmological Society (COS) recommends that adults see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of vision or decreased vision in one or both eyes
  • Changes in vision such as sudden spots, flashes of light, lightning streaks or jagged lines of light, wavy or watery vision, blurry faces, distortions or wavy lines, haloes around lights, double vision
  • Changes in the field of vision such as shadows, curtain-like loss of vision, black spots or blurriness in central or peripheral (side) vision
  • Physical changes to the eye such as crossed eyes, eyes that turn in, out, up or down, pain, signs of infection (redness, swelling, discharge, etc.)
  • Changes in colour vision

How often should you have your eyes examined?

Having your eyes examined periodically throughout your life and giving a family history of any eye disease is important.

An initial eye exam at six months old helps with early detection of vision problems that can contribute to developmental delays, educational setbacks and behavioural problems in children having difficulty seeing properly.

Healthy adults who do not notice anything wrong with their eyes should see an eye doctor according to this schedule:

Age 19 to 40: at least every 10 years

Age 41 to 55: at least every 5 years

Age 56 to 65: at least every 3 years

Over age 65: at least every 2 years

Are some Canadians at a higher risk of eye problems and need to see an eye doctor more frequently?

Yes.  Canadians at a higher risk include:

  • People with diabetes, thyroid disease, rheumatological diseases such as lupus.
  • People of African or Hispanic descent
  • Anyone with a tendency toward high intraocular pressure
  • Anyone with a family history of glaucoma, cataract, macular degeneration, or retinal detachment
  • Anyone with a previous eye injury
  • People taking certain medications (Plaquanil, Prednisone, Ethambutol are just a few of the medications that can affect the eyes — always ask your prescribing physician if vision can be affected by the meds you take)
  • People already experiencing poor eyesight from any other causes such as cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, etc.

These people should see an eye doctor according to this schedule:

Over age 40: at least every 3 years

Over age 50: at least every 2 years

Over age 60: at least once a year

What’s the difference between a diagnostic eye exam and an exam for the purposes of refraction?

A diagnostic eye examination requires knowledge and experience provided by a medical doctor with specialty certification in ophthalmology

A refractive examination involves the taking of measurements for visual acuity and the prescribing of correction. This examination does not require a medical doctor.

The use of supporting vision team personnel to perform certain non-medical procedures or tests is appropriate as a means of increasing the availability of ophthalmologists to provide medical services, and to provide comprehensive and efficient eye care to the greatest number of people.

Supporting personnel on the vision team work with and are supervised by ophthalmologists at all times. The ophthalmologist is responsible for the delivery of comprehensive eye care, which includes primary, secondary or tertiary care.

Prevent eye injuries — practice smart eye safety:

Wear protective goggles around chemicals, cleaners, tools & machines

Protect your eyes from the sun

Wear protective eyewear, helmet & faceguard when playing sports with a ball or puck

Protect your eyes when using elastic devices such as bungee cords

Handle fireworks with extreme care & caution

Other vision safety tips »