It's been said that your eyes are the window to your soul. Well, research is showing that your eyes are a window to a lot more than your thoughts and emotions; it can be an indicator of your overall health. A study by UnitedHealthcare entitled, “Impact of Eye Exams in Identifying Chronic Conditions” showed that through comprehensive eye exams, eye care practitioners can identify some chronic diseases and conditions to help with early diagnosis, an earlier start of treatment and better disease management and prognosis.
What makes the eye so special in this regard is that it is the only organ through which you can see nerves and blood vessels without an invasive procedure or surgery. Aside from known eye diseases, many other conditions have symptoms that manifest in your eyes. Sometimes an eye exam can reveal damage caused by chronic conditions and disease in other parts of your body, before you even begin to notice symptoms. For many chronic conditions and diseases, early diagnosis and treatment are essential for a successful outcome, and these discoveries through an eye exam can often detect the early stages of disease.
According to the study, eye doctors identified 15% of participants with diabetes and multiple sclerosis, in addition to a number of other chronic conditions including high cholesterol, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and Graves disease. An eye exam can also detect neurological, thyroid and autoimmune diseases.
Let’s have a look at some of these conditions individually and how an eye exam by an experienced eye doctor can detect a problem from the window of the eye:
Diabetes: Diabetes can cause an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy, where blood vessels inside the eyes become prone to leaking fluid and small amounts of blood onto the retina. Retinal vascular changes and blood vessel hemorrhaging are indicators that diabetes is present and may be affecting other sensitive organs and tissues like the kidney.
Hypertension / high blood pressure: High intraocular pressure readings obtained from measuring the pressure inside your eye are usually associated with glaucoma, but they can also indicate high blood pressure.
High cholesterol: High cholesterol puts you at risk for cardiovascular disease and strokes. Rarely, it can present in the eye by a white painless ring around the outer edge of the cornea, called an arcus, which is a buildup of fat particles (not to be confused with an arcus senilis , which affects the elderly and is not necessarily associated with cholesterol). Occasionally, a dilated eye exam can detect signs of high cholesterol. In severe cases, retinal vein occlusion can develop which means the blood flowing to and from your eye is blocked, which may be related to a clot that leads to sudden vision loss.
Neurological issues: Although your eye can twitch form time to time, a persistent eye twitch combined with a twitch on the side of your mouth and/or other symptoms might indicate that a neurological disease such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's is developing. Most eye twitches have benign causes like fatigue, stress, or caffeine.
Thyroid disease: Your thyroid gland regulates your body's metabolism. A classic sign of thyroid disease is a bulging eyeball, because an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can cause swelling of the soft tissues within the eye socket. Since thyroid hormones are involved in hair production, an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can lead to hair loss in the outer part of the eyebrow.
Autoimmune disease: Certain autoimmune diseases can affect the eyes, including HIV, Graves Disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and uveitis.
These are only some of the diseases that present symptoms which manifest in your eyes, but this sample does illustrate how enlightening a simple eye exam can be. Eye exams are not only to make sure your vision is up to par. Have your eyes checked regularly to ensure you are keeping your eye health and overall health in check.