There’s more to an eye exam than meets the eye. You might be content letting your optometrist take the wheel, but it’s worth knowing what they’re really looking for when they take a look into the depths of your eye.

One critical focus for the ideal eye exam is guaranteeing your eye health with careful monitoring for disease. Without it, you’re missing the opportunity to preserve your vision well into old age.

Many eye care patients are simply looking for a quick fix to a current vision problem, and that’s understandable. But the more care your optometrist puts into screening and preventing eye disease, the more long-term the benefits of visiting your eye care center can become.

Notable Eye Diseases & How They’re Detected

Early detection of eye diseases is key to the treatment of them. For the more common eye diseases, damage done to the sophisticated tissues in your eyes can’t be undone, resulting in permanent degradation or loss of sight. All the more reason to have a trained professional search for early warning signs. And if your optometrist can mitigate or avoid eye diseases for you with available best practices, so much the better.

For each of the notable eye diseases posing a risk to the majority, there’s a warning sign or two your Medical Optometry America optometrist can look for to better the possible outcomes.


Diabetes can affect the body in several ways, but it attacks the eyes by way of veins in the retina. There are a few conditions affecting the eyes in particular that can develop without intervention early on.

Nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR)

This condition is an early stage of diabetic retinopathy, where blood vessels begin to form tiny leaks. These leaks can cause swelling of the macula, a light-sensitive, detail-oriented part of the retina. Sometimes affected veins close off, meaning blood can’t reach the macula, in a condition called macular ischemia

At this stage, vision tends to be blurry. When the macula swells, it leads to diabetic macular edema (DME). When NPDR advances, it becomes proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR).

Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (PDR)

This stage of retinopathy comes with a new symptom called neovascularization. Those veins that begin leaking and closing off might sprout a formation of new veins, which also begin leaking blood into the main chamber of the eye. Scars form and interfere with the macula or start tearing the retina from the optic nerve.

Early detection allows for treatment before it advances to this stage, where there’s a potential for plenty of irreparable damage to the retina.

Diabetic Macular Edema (DME)

Graphic of yellow and blue eye struggling with written concept of blurry vision

Swollen macula can lead to significant loss of vision, especially details like faces or text. Usually, symptoms include washed-out coloring and blurriness.

The fovea is a smaller specialized center of the macula, and when edema swelling reaches the fovea, DME aggravates into clinically significant macular edema (CSME). Unfortunately, DME can develop at any stage, so early detection is especially vital.

Age-related Macular Degeneration

Age-related Macular Degeneration is a degradation of vision with two subtypes. There’s the dry kind, where fatty oil deposits form under the macula (the text, numbers, and faces rendering part of the retina). Then there’s the wet kind where blood vessels develop under the macula, making the focal point uneven and prone to damage from bursting veins.

Optometrists rely on retinal imaging to diagnose while the effects are still microscopic. And more comprehensive methods include nutritional supplementation to protect your retina from fluid or solid buildup.


Glaucoma is a loss of vision as the optic nerve endures gradual damage, usually due to high pressure in the eye. But there’s another type of glaucoma with normal eye pressure. Altogether these types for the second-leading cause of blindness in the USA. There are a couple of notable subtypes: open-angle glaucoma, and angle-closure glaucoma. 

But damage to the eye’s tissues, especially the optic nerve, makes glaucoma alarming and completely sight-threatening. Like both wet and dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), early detection via thorough retinal imaging makes diagnosis clearer, so treatment can come just in time. Best practices include effective monitoring, carefully considered SLT/MIGS surgical referrals, and pressure-lowering eye drops.


Cataracts are cloudy spots forming in your ocular lens, which helps focus images into the retina. Sometimes cataracts develop as patients age into their senior years, but patients with diabetes can develop them a lot younger. UV light exposure is a significant risk factor for your eyes in developing cataracts, so as you get a little older, your optometrist will have to screen for them.

Some of the symptoms include:

If caught early enough, your optometrist can prescribe special glasses that can compensate for the drop in vision quality. If allowed to progress, cataracts can get to a point where surgery is the only chance at saving your vision, but with careful monitoring, your optometrist will know if and when to refer you for cataracts surgery.

When You Should Get an Eye Physical

Extra emphasis on early detection of these common eye diseases is what sets the Eye Physical apart from basic eye exams. At the eye physical, your optometrist tests not only for correction to 20/20 vision but also for eye health and strength. Early detection for these common conditions needs to come at the right intervals. Treatment should be based on competent, out-of-the-box thinking.

Like general practice (GP) doctors recommend annual physical exams to catch early-stage bodily diseases, we recommend a physical for your eyes just as often. The American Optometric Association recommends a thorough eye exam annually. Still, we recommend taking it a step further with an annual Eye Physical.

You’ll get a comprehensive eye health checkup at the Eye Physical, complete with a slit-lamp inspection, retinal imaging via optical coherence tomography (OCT). If your general health or eye health changes, it’s better to catch it within the same year as it’s onset, rather than whenever you’d like new glasses.

Diabetic Eye Physicals

Those with diabetes need their different focuses in their eye exams, due to NPDR and DME posing their own risks. So a Diabetic Eye Physical pays special attention to the early warning signs.


Aside from monitoring for these eye diseases, both types of eye physicals serve patients as a resource. They equip patients with knowledge and exercises so they can do their part — to help with avoiding the appearance of an eye disease between annual physicals. 

They also provide a chance to help you through surgical recovery, ensuring all is well with your eyes’ tissues during the healing process.

Getting an Eye Physical

There are plenty of reasons to look for an optometrist that has the edge over common eye diseases. We really encourage you to find an optometrist near you — one who can perform the Medical Optometry America Eye Physical to a standard that serves you!