A young lady browsing frames at an optical shop

By Cheryl Sim, in consultation with Dr Jamie Ng, Associate Consultant, Ophthmalmology


According to Dr Jamie Ng, Associate Consultant, Ophthalmology, Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Jurong Medical Centre, some irreversible and potentially blinding conditions such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy have no symptoms in the early stages. This makes eye screening the only way to spot these conditions early and slow down or prevent their progression.

Clues to Health

A lady removing her glasses to give her eyes a rest

“Eye health can also be an indicator of overall health. In some cases, the signs of some diseases are visible in, on, or around the eyes long before symptoms appear,” said Dr Ng.

Ring Signs

High levels of cholesterol can cause a corneal arc: whitish, gray or yellowish deposits around the circumference of the cornea. This arc does not usually affect vision but it indicates an inherited predisposition to high cholesterol and high blood triglycerides. Corneal arcs are also linked to diabetes and high blood pressure.

Fat Clues

High cholesterol can also cause the eyes or eyelids to develop plaque-like deposits (xanthelasma). In severe cases, high levels of cholesterol can cause fatty deposits to line the blood vessels in the eye, blocking them or causing a rupture that may cut off blood supply and cause vision loss.

Under pressure

A disease of the eyes called hypertensive retinopathy can signal serious complications associated with dangerously high blood pressure. Hypertensive retinopathy also indicates end-organ damage (such as heart and renal impairment) and may be a risk marker of stroke, congestive heart failure and cardiovascular mortality. This means prompt and accurate diagnosis during an eye screening can prevent unnecessary vision loss and systemic complications.

Given these realities, perhaps the old saying ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul’ has some truth in it. The eye, after all, is truly a window into the body and the only place where a doctor can look at a nerve, artery or vein without any invasive procedures.

Dr Ng reiterated, “Because many eye problems and health conditions are ‘silent’, people should not wait until they experience symptoms to see a doctor. Regular eye screenings, just like health screenings, are important to detect, treat and prevent problems from worsening.

Getting your eyesight checked is not just for those of us who are short or long-sighted. In fact, eye screenings are important to detect common eye problems and other diseases in their early stages. This is especially important for those with:

  • High myopia, (more than -6.00 dioptres or 600 degrees)
  • The elderly
  • People with chronic diseases such as diabetes

Related: Eye Care in Your 60s and Beyond

How the Eye Works

The cornea is the transparent layer in front of the eye. The iris is a pigmented membrane with an adjustable circular opening called the pupil that expands and contracts to control the amount of light entering the eye.

Labelled cross-section diagram of an eye

Related: Keep an Eye on It — Eye Strain

When to Screen

  • Children: Yearly from age three, at the start of school and then every two years
  • Teens/Adults: Once every two years
  • Elderly: Once a year after age 60

Related: Eye Checks for Your Pre-schooler

Getting an Eye Exam

A young woman doing her ece test

Unlike a vision test which just checks for vision problems, an eye examination assesses the health and function of the eyes. It may include:

  • A test for overall and peripheral (side) vision.
  • Checking the reflexes of the pupils and the functioning of the eye muscles.
  • An examination of the front and back of the eye using a special upright microscope. An eye pressure test using air puff tonometry (a device that expels a light jet of air onto the eye).
  • Dry eye evaluation. During these tests, you may receive eye drops that temporarily enlarge your pupils so that the back of the eye can be viewed. These drops will blur vision, so it is important not to drive after your screening appointment.

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