(Women's Health) When's the last time you saw your eye doctor? If you wear glasses or contacts, it might've been the last time you needed a new prescription. And if you don't? You might not even be able to remember. If you can relate, you're definitely not alone. Only 50 percent of Americans get their eyes checked annually, a recent VSP Vision Care and YouGov survey found. But regular eye exams can keep your peepers functioning at their peak. That means making sure your vision is sharp, but also catching potential eye problems before they become a big deal. So how do you know if it's time for your next visit?

It's been more than a year since your last exam
Regular eye exams are the best way to keep seeing as clearly as possible and protect against eye diseases that can mess with your vision, says the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Eye exams can also help you learn important information about your overall health. By looking into your eyes, your doctor gets a close-up view of your blood vessels -- which can hint at developing issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even some cancers.

You're plagued by headaches
Throbbing pain, especially behind your eyes or brows, is a telltale sign that you're having trouble seeing or focusing -- even if you think everything looks just fine. Digital eye strain, commonly caused by the blue light emitted by phone and computer screens, could also be to blame for your headaches. Definitely bring this up with your eye doctor. He or she can recommend blue light lenses to help reduce your exposure and provide other tips or tricks for staving off the pain.

Your eye (or eyes) hurt
Do not ignore this symptom. Sharp or throbbing pain that doesn't go away is a sign that your eye is inflamed and that something's probably up. It'll take a comprehensive eye exam to figure out what the problem is and how to treat it. It could be an infection, dry eye, or a sinus problem. There's also the possibility you might be dealing with something serious like sudden-onset glaucoma, according to the NIH.

Your eyes are red and swollen
Red, puffy peepers are telltale signs of pink eye. Your eyes might also burn or itch, feel sensitive to light, or have drippy or crusty discharge, notes the National Eye Institute (NEI). Don't ignore these symptoms or write them off as NBD. These problems can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection as well as allergens, but you'll need an eye doctor to determine the culprit.

You notice floaters or weird light flashes
Seeing little dark spots or squiggly strands once in a while isn't usually a big deal, especially if they pop up after looking at something bright. But you should see your eye doctor ASAP if you suddenly start seeing a lot of floaters or if they're accompanied by flashes of light. The same goes for if you start having a hard time seeing out of the sides of your eyes. These could be signs of a retinal detachment, which occurs when the retina is lifted or pulled away from the back wall of the eye. It's a serious problem that can cause permanent vision loss or even blindness in just a few days when left untreated, so don't wait.

Your vision seems to fluctuate
Are you seeing clearly one minute and blurry the next? Vision fluctuations can be caused by dry eye, uncorrected astigmatism (an irregular curve on the cornea that affects the way light is refracted), or even untreated diabetes.


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