How many times have you heard that “eyes are the windows to the soul”? This old chestnut has been variously attributed to the Bible, the Roman philosopher Cicero, William Shakespeare, and Leonardo DaVinci. No matter who first penned those words in that order, it’s become so commonplace that it’s a decided cliché.
Less poetically, but more practically, the eyes are also a window to our overall health. A comprehensive eye exam can detect diseases and conditions in many other parts of the body, which means that you need to have your eyes looked at regularly. This is true even if your eyes aren’t causing pain or other issues, and even if you don’t require corrective lenses to achieve 20/20 vision.
Still need some convincing? Take a look at this list of common health issues that an ophthalmologist will be looking for when they peer into your peepers.
Did you know that hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, affects one out of every three Americans? Left untreated, this condition can lead to heart attacks and strokes, which can be deadly.
High blood pressure is also a risk factor for diseases of the eye, such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. It’s even more dangerous because high blood pressure is often asymptomatic, but having an exam in which your eyes are dilated can catch it.
Another condition that can cause stroke, elevated cholesterol can manifest in the eyes, as well. A telltale yellow or blue ring around the cornea can be a warning that the individual has cholesterol that’s in the danger zone. Additionally, an eye doctor might be able to detect deposits in the retinal blood vessels that say the same thing.
Cholesterol that’s higher than it should be is very treatable, first with lifestyle changes and secondarily with medications – but it’s important to catch and correct it early. Multiple Sclerosis If you are experiencing double vision, extremely blurred vision, or pain when you move your eyes, get yourself to an ophthalmologist or your primary care physician right away. That’s because these symptoms can point to inflammation of the optic nerve – which, in turn, may be a sign of multiple sclerosis. MS is a degenerative disease of the nervous system that prevents your brain and nerves from communicating properly. Some people with MS are hardly affected by it at all, but others find their movement, daily activities, and quality of life seriously compromised.
There are multiple links between eye health and diabetes, a condition in which the body cannot produce or effectively use insulin. High blood sugar can lead to many eye-related diseases or issues such as blurry vision, glaucoma, cataracts, and retinopathy. It’s also the leading cause of blindness in adults ages 20 to 74.
During your eye exam, the doctor may notice ruptured blood vessels in the eyes. Along with symptoms like floaters, blurred or fluctuating vision, vision loss, or trouble seeing colors, this could be an early sign of either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.
There are more than 100 known autoimmune diseases and related conditions. Normally, the body’s immune system is designed to attack an invading virus or bacteria that can cause illness or pain. This is how we can avoid getting a cold, for example, even if we live with someone who is sniffling and sneezing. However, sometimes the immune system malfunctions and wages war against the body’s own healthy tissue. The resulting condition is an autoimmune disorder. Here are a few autoimmune disorders with symptoms that can be detected during the course of a routine eye exam.
This tick-borne infection can lead to inflammation throughout the body. One of its hallmarks is inflammation of the optic nerve. People who have contracted Lyme may also experience an increase in floaters when they are first infected.
“Occasional floaters are common,’ explain the eye doctors at Clarity Vision, “but if you notice a sudden upswing in them, make an appointment to have your eyes examined. Floaters can be symptoms of several different problems, one of which is Lyme disease.”
A disorder that causes muscles to tire easily and weaken, myasthenia gravis can be life-threatening if the muscles used in breathing, chewing, swallowing, or talking are compromised. Some of its first symptoms include double vision or drooping eyelids in one or both eyes.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
The inflammatory form of arthritis can show up in the eyes as redness accompanied by severe pain. This occurs when the sclera, the white part of the eye, becomes inflamed. Another common RA symptom is dry eye.
When the iris is inflamed, it can cause extreme pain as well as sensitivity to light. Iritis is one of the symptoms of sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disorder that affects many of the body’s organs.
TV doctor Gregory House, M.D. was famous for saying “it’s not lupus,” but when it is lupus, parts of the eye can develop swelling. Dry eye is another common symptoms of this debilitating disease, which can affect almost any of the body’s parts or systems.
How often should you have a comprehensive eye exam to check for these and other health issues, and of course to make sure that your eyes themselves are healthy? That depends on your age and a few other factors. Consult your primary care physician and get a referral for an ophthalmologist if necessary.
Do you have any of these diseases? How was your illness diagnosed? Has it affected your vision? Leave a comment below and let us know your experience.