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What Diseases Can Be Detected in an Eye Exam?

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An optometrist performing a slit-lamp exam on his patient.

Our eye health is nothing to take lightly. We only get 1 set of eyes, after all. You may think that getting eye exams is simply to ensure you can see clearly with up-to-date eyeglasses or contact lenses. And while your corrective prescription is certainly something your eye doctor can check during an eye exam, they are typically checking so much more.

Diseases or conditions like glaucoma, cataracts, dry eye, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and retinal detachment are all things your optometrist can detect during a comprehensive eye exam. Optometrists can detect systemic diseases like cancer and diabetes too.

Depending on your age or risk factors, your eye doctor may focus on looking for certain things. For example, a child or young adult may not be at a high risk of developing AMD because it’s often an age-related condition. But anyone can develop diabetes, which can cause issues in the entire body, so an optometrist will likely pay close attention to any warning signs of diabetes for patients of all ages.

Why Are Comprehensive Eye Exams Important?

It’s often easy to detect a wound on the outside of our body, which can make treatment simple. But many eye conditions or diseases can begin with little to no symptoms. And a significant problem with this is that once you lose vision, it often cannot be recovered. 

Regular comprehensive eye exams are an important form of protection against vision loss and further complications caused by eye diseases and conditions that can otherwise go unnoticed.

Not to mention, our vision can change over time due to refractive errors like myopia, hyperopia, or astigmatism. With a comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor can ensure you have an updated prescription for your eyeglasses or contacts to give you clear vision.

How Often Should You Get an Eye Exam? 

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to how often you should get an eye exam. Your eye doctor will take your vision needs, overall eye health, and risk factors into consideration when making their recommendations.

The Canadian Association of Optometrists has some general guidelines for eye exam frequency based on age. Their recommendations are a comprehensive eye exam every 1 to 2 years for most adults 20–64 years old. Children, seniors, and people with health conditions that can affect their eyes often need annual eye exams.  

Which Specific Diseases Can Be Detected During an Eye Exam?

No one wants to consider the possibility they could develop a problem with their eyes, but you should still schedule routine visits with your eye doctor. The earlier a disease or condition is detected, the better opportunity there can be to manage it and reduce its effects.

Dry Eye Disease

Dry eye disease, often called dry eye, affects many Canadians. And even though it’s not typically a vision-threatening condition, it’s often irritating and can affect your daily life.

Aqueous deficient dry eye and evaporative dry eye are the 2 primary types of dry eye disease. Aqueous deficient dry eye is primarily caused by an inadequate amount of tear production and is often related to age, medications, or other health problems. Evaporative dry eye is a more common form of dry eye disease related to an issue with the tear film’s mixture that causes tears to evaporate too quickly.


Glaucoma is often dubbed “the silent thief of sight” because it begins developing with little to no symptoms in many cases. Age is one of the most common risk factors associated with glaucoma, but it can develop in people of all ages.

Glaucoma is actually a group of several diseases typically characterized by increased eye pressure—although normal-tension glaucoma can occur without increased pressure. The primary factor that connects these diseases is the damage they can cause to the optic nerve—and the resulting vision loss.


Cataracts are another common age-related condition and one of the most common causes of vision loss in Canada. The condition happens when the eye’s lens grows cloudy over time. 

Cataracts are often considered a normal part of aging, but certain factors, like an injury or medical conditions, can cause them to develop earlier. The only way to fix a cataract is through cataract surgery, but this isn’t typically necessary until the cataract is affecting a person’s daily life.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

AMD is another age-related disease that affects many people in North America and is a leading cause of blindness. There is no cure for it, and vision loss caused by AMD is typically permanent once it takes place. Its progression can only be slowed or stopped.

Wet and dry AMD are the 2 types of AMD. Dry AMD typically develops slowly over many years, so the earlier it’s caught, the better the chances of preserving your sight can be. Wet AMD can develop very quickly and typically requires emergency treatment to prevent vision loss.

Diabetes & Retinal Detachment

An eye doctor may be able to detect diabetes or pre-diabetes during an eye exam because of how diabetes can affect the blood vessels in the eye. 

After diagnosis, an eye doctor will typically recommend that a person returns yearly for an exam if they have diabetes because of the potential diabetes has for increasing the risk of vision-threatening conditions like diabetic retinopathy or retinal detachment.


Cancer may not be the first thing we consider when thinking about what an eye doctor can detect during an eye exam, but eye cancer and cancers that affect areas near the eye are conditions they can help detect! An optometrist can detect cancer within the eye, cancerous growths surrounding the eye, and skin cancer on the eyelid and surrounding tissue.

A woman in an optical clinic shaking hands with her optometrist.

Book Your Next Exam at Aurora Eye Care

This information isn’t meant to be concerning, but it does underline the importance of getting regular comprehensive eye exams. Many eye conditions can be treated to prevent vision loss or other health effects, especially if they are caught early.Book an appointment at Aurora Eye Care if you’re due for your next eye exam or experiencing any troubling symptoms. One of our experienced optometrists would be happy to complete a full eye exam and speak with you about your needs.

Written by Dr. Kyla Hunter

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