In a tough economy, saving money is on everyone's mind. But when it comes to eye care, experts say that what you do to save money today may put you at risk of much higher costs in the future.
"As people try to ration their income, they will often choose to forgo or skip their routine eye exam," says Samuel Pierce, OD, a Trussville, Ala.-based optometrist and a board member of the American Optometric Association. "It's penny-wise and health care-foolish."
According to the CDC, 61 million Americans are at high risk of losing their eyesight, yet only half that number saw an eye doctor in the previous year. Pierce says that many people equate the health of their eyes with their ability to see. If they don't have vision problems now, or they have glasses that correct their vision, they often believe that their eyes are doing just fine.
The trouble is, blinding diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy -- the top cause of blindness among U.S. adults -- often don't have any noticeable symptoms until after the disease has progressed to a point where the damage is irreversible. Caught early, however, many eye diseases can be treated before they do permanent harm.
"Never equate how well you see with how healthy your eyes are," Pierce says. "That is the biggest misconception out there."
Ophthalmologist Mark Fromer, MD, agrees.
"There are all kinds of systemic diseases, but people like to think it is all about eyeglasses and don't see the bigger picture," says Fromer, who practices at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York and is the eye surgeon for the New York Rangers hockey team.
Fromer says that patient education plays a big role in how often people see the eye doctor, but budget is an important factor as well. When he talks to patients, he puts eye health in perspective by comparing it to skydiving and brain surgery.
"You don't want a budget parachute or a budget neurologist, do you?" Fromer says.
The American Optometric Association recommends adults ages 18-60 who have no risks for eye disease have an eye examination every two years. Adults 18-60 at risk for eye disease should get an eye exam every one to two years or as recommended by your eye doctor. Those who are ages 61 and older should get an eye exam annually or as recommended by your eye doctor.
"There are lots of blinding diseases without symptoms up front," Fromer says. "That's why it is so important to come in early and be tested."
Caution When Shopping for Glasses Online
Skimping on routine care is not the only place where budget seekers can run into trouble. Where and how you get your glasses can also be a problem. Pierce points to online eyeglass retailers in particular. They may offer low prices, but he says that too often, what you get for your money are cheap, inaccurate, and unsafe glasses.