WEDNESDAY, July 13, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Routine eye checkups often pick up unnoticed problems, particularly in older adults, a new study says.
"In asymptomatic patients, comprehensive routine optometric eye examinations detect a significant number of new eye conditions and/or results in management changes," said the study's author, Elizabeth Irving, and her colleagues from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
More than half of people with no new symptoms or vision problems receive new prescriptions or treatment changes as a result of routine eye exams, the researchers found. The need for vision prescription changes was found for two out of five people, the study noted.
Meanwhile, 16 percent were diagnosed with a new eye condition and 31 percent had a change in their ongoing care, researchers found.
The study included data on nearly 6,400 patients who visited a university eye clinic over the course of a year.
Roughly 40 percent said they had no problems with blurry vision, headaches, or other eye-related issues.
The most significant changes involved older people. Among young children, just 8 percent had changes resulting from their routine eye exams, but in adults 65 and older, 78 percent had changes, the study showed.
Besides seniors, those who let more time pass between eye exams are more likely to have their treatment plan change, the researchers noted. They said their findings highlight the need for regular eye exams.
The results were published in the July issue of the journal Optometry and Vision Science.
"Often people fail to see the need for symptomless eye examinations, but our authors make the case that there are numerous sound reasons for routine and regular eye exams," Dr. Anthony Adams, the journal's associate editor, said in a journal news release.
"These include important systemic diseases such as diabetes and eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration," he added.
Young and middle-aged adults waited the longest between eye exams -- about three years on average. These longer delays between visits were independently associated with a higher rate of significant changes, the researchers found.
"Given an overall greater than 50 percent detection of significant change, routine eye examinations do appear to be productive in asymptomatic patients, and this appears to increase with age," the study's authors wrote.
Routine eye screenings are believed to play a key role in preventing vision loss, but how often adults should have vision exams depends largely on age and medical history, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). If you have a family history of eye diseases, check with your eye doctor to see how often you need routine eye exams.
For most adults, the AAO recommends a comprehensive eye exam beginning at age 40. From 40 to 54, most symptom-free people can go 2 to 4 years between visits. From 55 to 64, the AAO recommends intervals of 1 to 3 years, and for those 65 and older, examinations every 1 to 2 years are advised. People with diabetes should have a dilated eye exam every year, according to the AAO.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on routine eye care.