Eye Health: General Information

Young women's version of this guide
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What is eye health?

Eye health is about:

  • Getting your vision screened by your primary care provider or an eye health specialist.
  • Protecting your eyes during sports and other activities that could cause damage to your eyes
  • Getting early treatment for any injury to your eye(s)
  • Seeing an eye specialist if you have certain eye conditions such as dry or itchy eyes
You should see your primary care provider (PCP) every year for your checkup. During that visit let your PCP know if you are having any problems seeing fine print in books, the black board at school or when you’re watching movies. Any time you have any problems or symptoms with your eyes, call your PCP, who will help you decide if you need to see an eye specialist.

Have you ever thought about what’s inside your eyes? Your eyes have many parts working together to create the images you see.

Anatomy of the Eye

Let’s follow light as it enters your eye to understand how the eye works.

  • The cornea is the eye’s clear surface and what light first hits. The cornea bends light and sends it through the pupil.
  • The pupil is an opening that gets bigger or smaller. The colored part of your eye, the iris, controls the pupil’s size.
  • The lens focuses the light onto the back of the eye (retina).
  • The retina contains special cells (photoreceptors) that change light into signals.
  • The optic nerve receives signals from the retina and passes it to the brain. The brain uses these signals to create a picture of what you see.
Anatomy of the Eye

Other cool facts about your eyes:

  • Your eyes are filled with a jelly-like stuff called vitreous gel that gives your eyes their round shape.
  • The pupil (opening in your eye) gets larger when it’s dark to let in more light.
  • Muscles inside your eye can move your eyeball in almost any direction. That way you don’t have to move your head to see what’s out of the corner of your eye.
  • Iris (colored part of your eye) means “rainbow” in Greek. Even though the iris can be hazel, green, grey, blue, or brown, only one pigment is responsible for creating the iris’ color – it’s called melanin.

Eye Exam and Vision Testing

The American Academy or Pediatrics and the American Academy of Ophthalmologists (2 groups of medical experts) recommend that children and teens should have their eyes checked every 1-3 years. Your primary care provider will check your vision at your yearly checkup. Some schools also do vision testing. You will be referred to an eye specialist for more testing if necessary. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, you should see an eye specialist once a year (or more often if you have an eye condition).

What’s the difference between vision testing and an eye exam?

Vision testing tells how well you can see, usually by having you read a chart with letters of different sizes. This is also called an acuity test. The test helps the eye specialist figure out if you need glasses or contacts to improve your vision. A full eye exam usually takes longer since it tests not only your vision, but other parts of your eyes as well.

What happens during an eye exam?

During an eye exam, the eye specialist performs tests to make sure your eyes are healthy. You may have a full eye exam or just a few tests, depending on what he/she thinks you need. Eye exams aren’t usually painful, but your eyes may feel a little irritated after the testing.

  • Dilation: The eye specialist may put drops in your eyes to dilate your pupils, which makes them bigger for a little while. It takes about 10-20 minutes for the medicine to work. Your eye specialist will then be able to look at the back of your eyes (called the retina), to check for any problems.

Dilated eyes are very sensitive to the sun so plan to wear sunglasses after your eyes have been dilated. Dilation also makes your vision blurry for several hours, but they will return to normal. You should make sure someone can drive you home from your eye appointment.

  • Pressure: The eye specialist may put the tip of an instrument called a tonometer near your eye. You will feel a quick puff of air. This tests the pressure of your eyes, which is also called tonometry, and is a test for glaucoma.
  • Side vision: The eye specialist will ask you to look up, down, right, and left while shining a light in your eyes. This tests your side (peripheral) vision.
  • Reflex: The eye specialist shines a small light in your eyes to see how the light is reflected on the cornea (front of the eye). The test is normal if the reflection is at the center of the pupils (eye opening).
  • Cover: While you cover one eye, the eye specialist will shine a light into your eye to see if your eyes are properly aligned.
Undilated Pupil vs. Dilated Pupil

Image Source: National Eye Institute

How often should I have my eyes checked?

You should visit your primary care provider (PCP) every year for a well checkup and if indicated, vision testing.

You should see your PCP if you’re having problems with your eyes, such as:

  • Blurry vision
  • Seeing double
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Light bothering your eyes
  • Tearing
  • Squinting
  • Itchy eyes – needing to rub your eyes often
  • Trouble reading
  • Trouble seeing the chalkboard at school

*Sometimes eye symptoms such as redness and itchiness of the eye can be caused from allergies.

Why would I need to get my eyes checked more often than my friends?

Some diseases, injuries, or infections can affect the health of your eyes.

Your PCP may want you to have your eyes checked more often if you have any of these problems:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Eye injuries
  • Eye infections
  • Changes in vision
  • Other people in your family have eye diseases such as glaucoma

Frequently Asked Questions

My eyes water all the time; is this normal?

Having occasional tearing is common, but if your eyes water all the time it’s best to see your primary care provider. This may be caused by a blocked tear duct or infection.

Is it safe to get my eyelids tattooed?

How safe it is to get a tattoo depends on who is doing the tattooing and where it is being done. Most states require you to get your parents’ permission to get a tattoo if you are under 18. No matter what age you are, discuss the idea with your parents or a trusted adult before making a quick decision. It’s also important to find a professional, experienced tattoo artist with a clean studio and sterile equipment before getting a tattoo. Talk to the artist, visit the studio, and understand the risks of getting a tattoo before making a decision.

Eyelid tattoos have the potential of being dangerous because of the tattoo’s closeness to the eyes. When you get an eyelid tattoo, ink is injected by a needle into the eyelid, puncturing the skin between 500-3000 times per minute. The needle could pierce the eye and cause blindness or other serious eye problems.

Is it safe to get my eyebrow pierced?

Just like eyelid tattooing, the safety of eyebrow piercing depends on how experienced the piercer is and how clean the studio and instruments are. Because the eyebrow is very close to the eyes, extra caution should be taken when getting an eyebrow pierced. A piercing gun should never be used because it can damage tissue and cause infection.

If you decide to get an eyebrow piercing, do plenty of research beforehand and talk to your parents or a trusted adult to see if it’s the right thing for you.

Can you get an STI in your eye?

Herpes (Herpes Simplex Virus Type I) is an STI that can cause herpes eye disease. Although not many people who get herpes will develop herpes eye disease, those who do may have redness, light sensitivity, tearing, headache, blisters and rash on the eyelid, and other symptoms.

Herpes can seem to go away and then suddenly return. This is because the virus can lie dormant or quiet in the body for a long time and then be reactivated by stress or illness.

If you think you have herpes in the eye, see your primary care provider right away. Herpes eye disease comes back frequently without treatment. To control herpes, you may have to take medication every day.

Other STIs that can cause eye problems are chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV/AIDS.

Practice safer sex to prevent the spread of herpes and other STIs, using condoms and dental dams during oral, vaginal, and anal sex.