The 15-Second Eye Test You Should Do Once a Week
It’s easy. It’s practical. It may save your vision
No matter your personality, one of your eyes is likely type A: strong, work-obsessed, and achievement-oriented.
Most of us have a dominant eye, called ocular dominance, that carries the bulk of your visual load, says Elizabeth Walsh Czirr, O.D., an optometrist with Nashville Regional Eyecare, located inside an America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses.
Your brain favors that eye over the other. This is completely normal, but sometimes the stronger eye pulls so much weight that vision problems in the weaker eye go unnoticed.
“If that ocular dominance is strong enough,” says Dr. Czirr, “it could overshadow any changes to the other eye, leading someone to not notice a large shift in vision.”
Dr. Czirr has seen this for herself: One of her patients had a dense cataract. Another had a macular hole in one eye, and still another had a retinal detachment. “It was several months before the patients even realized there was a problem,” she says, “because the stronger eye was doing all the work.”
If only there was a simple DIY test that could help you spot problems in your weaker eye while there was still time to slow, stop, or even reverse them.
Good news: There is, and it barely takes 15 seconds of your time.
Cover one eye and look around. (Keep your contact lenses in or glasses on, if you wear them.) Check out the view from the window, pick up a piece of mail, zero in on a sign or something across the room. The idea is to see what you can, well, see.
Before switching sides, put your open eye through some quick drills. Pick one or two of the following each week.
Eye Challenge No. 1: Look at a grid
This is a good way to check your central vision, which lets you see objects straight ahead, like your BFF, your favorite book, or oncoming traffic. Take a sheet of graph paper and hold it at eye level. If the lines appear missing, wavy, or distorted, that’s a big hint that there might be damage to the macula, or the center part of your retina.
In fact, the Amsler grid, which has a small dot in the center, is often given to patients for home monitoring of macular changes.
Eye Challenge No. 2: Read the fine print
It’s possible to be farsighted in just one eye. Or, if you already have a prescription for farsightedness, one eye could be getting worse. “A person can have any combination of prescriptions between their eyes,” says Dr. Czirr.
Adults who are comfortable reading a book, magazine, or their smartphone with both eyes open may not need to fix vision in the weaker eye. “I usually tell them it’s the difference between regular vision and ‘HD vision,’” she says.
But in children, it’s very important to correct the imbalance: Otherwise, the child can develop a lazy eye, a condition called amblyopia.
Eye Challenge No. 3: Watch TV
Likewise, you could be more nearsighted in one eye. So be sure to do the test for both near and far away. Flip on the menu guide channel and see how well you can read the words.
Eye Challenge No. 4: Check your periphery
This can be tricky—most people are sensitive only to big changes in their peripheral vision. But doing this challenge a few times can help you figure out your baseline.
Cover one eye, look straight ahead, and then try to notice your surroundings (up, down, left, and right). Repeat on the other eye, comparing the two. If you’re not seeing much from the corner of your eye, this can be red flag that your optic nerve might be damaged.
Eye Challenge No. 5: Try it at night
Repeating the main test at night while you’re in a car (not driving!) may help you spot early signs of a cataract, which is a clouding of your eye’s lens. That’s because cataracts often amplify the glare from headlights or streetlamps at night, says Chalise Francisco, O.D., an optometrist with Nashville Regional Eyecare, located inside an America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Bartlett, Tenn.
Francisco says that this is especially important if you’re in your 50s or 60s, which is around the time that many cataracts start to appear and when prevention measures can really help.
Bottom line: If you spot any significant differences, it’s a good reason to book an eye exam ASAP.
Only half of the 61 million U.S. adults at high risk for vision loss have annual eye exams. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vision Health Initiative)
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