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11 signs it’s time to see your eye doctor

“Sudden.” That’s the keyword Chattanooga ophthalmologist Dr. John Miller listens for when deciding whether a condition merits a call or visit to the eye doctor.

“Most serious conditions are accompanied by sudden change in vision,” says Dr. Miller. “One minute everything is fine and then you notice a big change. Sudden shifts are key.”

Here are 11 signs you should contact your eye doctor:


1. Tired or strained eyes

If you regularly squint or blink while trying to focus on words or screens, you may be suffering from eye fatigue. Take breaks, try to reduce glare and consider the effect of blue light on your eyes. If the fatigue continues, see your doctor.

One exception: presbyopia. Between the ages of 38 and 50, you may find it harder to focus on nearby objects, like your phone or a book, especially in low light. Untreated, it can cause headaches and eye fatigue. Annual eye exams will allow your doctor to treat it properly.

2. Inflamed, sensitive or sore eyes

If you wear contact lenses and experience sudden inflammation, redness, light sensitivity, or sore or tender eye, you may be at risk of a corneal ulcer. Take your contact lenses out ASAP and call your doctor.

3. Discharge

If you notice something other than tears coming out of your eye, it could indicate an infection such as pink eye.

4. Scratches

If a something comes in contact with your eye, you may experience a scratched cornea— an injury to the clear surface of the eye. Adults might experience this while doing manual tasks such as yardwork. For children, it often happens while playing with toys or if a piece of sand or dirt enters the eye.

5. Wavy lines

If you see lines that look like heat waves coming off a road or ripples on swimming pool, you may have an ocular migraine.

If lines start to look bowed, wavy or crooked, it could also be a sign of macular degeneration, an eye disease that causes vision loss in the center of your field of vision. Your doctor can use an Amsler Chart to test for it.

6. Flashes and floaters

If you see flashes of light or persistent spots in your vision (floaters), you may have experienced a tear or retinal detachment.

7. Blurry vision

Sudden blurry vision could indicate a bleed, particularly if you have diabetes or macular degeneration.

8. Loss of vision

Sudden vision loss could be the result of an eye stroke (retinal artery occlusion), which happens when blood flow is blocked in the retina.

9. Severe headache on the sides of your head

Temporal arteritis is a disease that causes inflammation in blood vessels that carry oxygen from your heart to the rest of your body.

10. Double vision or halos

Seeing double may indicate problems with your cornea or eye muscles. It can also be a symptom of cataracts, especially if you’re also seeing rings of light (halos) around people or objects.

11. Pressure

A feeling that something is pushing against the back of your eye could indicate glaucoma, a condition in which a buildup of pressure damages the nerve that transmits images to your brain.

If you aren’t experiencing any of these problems, how often do you need an exam?


There are 3 general rules:

1. Kids need exams

  • At 6 months
  • Between ages 3 and 5
  • Again between 5 and 6, and
  • Then annually through age 18.

2. If you’re under 40, have good vision and no problems, go every 2 years.

3. If you’re 40 or older, go annually unless your doctor says it’s safe to go 2 years.

“If you’re seeing well, routine eye exams help us keep it that way,” says Dr. Miller. “But they’re even more important because they can help us catch problems before they become difficult or impossible to treat, and that can have a real effect on your vision long term. Regular exams are especially important for people with diabetes, which is the second-leading cause of blindness.”

To learn more about diabetes and vision, click here

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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