By Dr. Michael Nelson,

President, Canadian Association of Optometrists


With apologies to Hamlet, there is no better time than to consider the question in the title of this article than in May, recognized across Canada as Vision Health Month.

During Vision Health Month, those of us working in the optometric space – individually and at provincial and national association levels – take extra steps to increase awareness about the importance of protecting eye health and vision care.

Ensuring optimal eye health and vision care begins with having regular, comprehensive eye exams delivered by an optometrist. Think of them as being like the regular appointments you have with a physician or a dentist, only for the eyes. Ideally, these exams start in infancy – yes, even babies can (and should!) have an eye exam – and go through to the golden years.

A comprehensive eye exam performed by an optometrist is an important part of preventive health care. It is also the least invasive physical exam a person will ever have.

During the appointment, an optometrist will review a patient’s case history, conduct an external and internal exam of their eyes and measure vision qualities, such as eye movements and coordination, sharpness of vision and peripheral vision. S/he will also evaluate a patient’s ability to adjust focus and to see colour and depth normally.

At the end of the exam, a patient may have something as basic as a prescription for glasses.

Or they could have a diagnosis and a treatment plan to help prevent a disease or disorder affecting the eye and visual system, like glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, retinal detachments and dry eye.

It is important to remember that serious eye conditions don’t have obvious symptoms; some only show symptoms when the condition is advanced and difficult, or even impossible, to treat.

That same exam also enables optometrists to identify underlying health conditions, including early warning signs of conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, vascular disease, thyroid disease, brain tumors and diabetes.

And let’s be very clear – a sight test or screening is NOT the same as a comprehensive eye exam.

While a sight test can measure visual acuity, we know that 20/20 vision is not equivalent to good eye health; only a comprehensive eye exam can provide that level of reassurance and peace of mind.

To borrow from Mastercard – priceless!

While this message has resonance the entire year, during this month especially remember – a comprehensive eye exam can do more than test your vision – it could help save a life.