Did you know that an annual eye exam goes far beyond making sure that you are seeing your best? It is one of the few ways to uncover possible health concerns without imaging, surgery, or blood draws.
Your optometrist is actually looking inside of your body as they examine your optic nerve, retina, and lens of the eye. This “insider information” can reveal abnormalities that indicate systemic disorders and diseases before symptoms appear.
Following are 9 significant health conditions that your optometrist may uncover during your annual eye exam:
- High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (HBP) impacts one in three American adults. During a comprehensive, dilated eye exam, your optometrist may notice signs of HBP, like unusual bends or kinks in the blood vessels in the back of the eye. HBP can also cause tiny blood vessels to rupture and leak blood into the whites of the eye.
HBP is a risk factor associated with the onset or progression of other ocular diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, and glaucoma.
In 2017, optometrists discovered more than 400,000 cases of diabetic retinopathy in patients who had never been diagnosed with diabetes! Those diagnoses empowered the patients to take control of and manage their condition to live healthier lives. Diabetes targets the small vessels of the retina. Your doctor will look for swollen blood vessels and dilated capillaries that can block blood flow to the eye.
Another sign of diabetes is the appearance of fluffy white patches on the retina, which can disappear without treatment but are an indicator of diabetes.
Early diagnosis can catch retina damage in its early stages and prevent vision loss and other serious complications.
- Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Disease
The health of your heart is directly connected to the health of your eyes.
Clogged arteries are one of several cardiovascular conditions that eye exams can detect. Clogged arteries cause decreased blood flow or ischemia to the eye, and this disruption can lead to the death of retina cells. These blockages or clots can cause a patient to feel like a curtain is closing over their vision, or they can experience sudden blind spots in their vision.
Sometimes your eye doctor can see small plaque deposits in the eye that have broken away from the carotid artery (that’s the artery that supplies most of the blood to the brain). These plaques can cause a stroke if they break away and travel through blood vessels to reach the brain. A loss of peripheral vision can indicate brain damage from a previous stroke.
- High Cholesterol
If your doctor sees a blue or yellow ring around the cornea of the eye, that can indicate high cholesterol — particularly in patients under the age of 40.
Yellowing of the skin or small yellow fatty bumps around the eyes are also indicators of high cholesterol. These deposits are most often seen on the inner part of the eyelid closest to the nose.
- Thyroid Disease
Thyroid disease can be characterized by blurry vision, vision loss, and dry eyes. Graves’ Disease, the most common eye disease associated with a dysfunctional thyroid, is typified by protruding eyeballs or retracting eyelids. This occurs when there is too much or too little thyroid hormone.
- Cancers of the blood, tissue or skin
Skin cancers affect the outer surface of the eye and the eyelids. The lower eyelids are one of the most common places for skin cancer to occur. Melanoma, though rare, can affect the iris or muscle fibers surrounding the lens of the eye. Leukemia and lymphoma can cause changes to the inside of the eye. Cancers affecting other areas of the body, including breast cancer, can spread to the ocular structures and sinus cavities. A detailed eye exam can reveal early indicators of many types of these cancers.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
Dry eye, caused by reduced production of tears or eye film, is the most common symptom of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).
Another prevalent symptom of RA is inflammation of connective tissue and the sclera, the thin white outer layer of the eye. This can lead to red eyes accompanied by severe pain. The main component of connective tissue and sclera is collagen and inflammation increases collagen production beyond normal values.
- Lyme disease
Lyme disease is a tick-borne inflammatory infection that can affect the entire body. Inflammation of the optic nerve and increased floaters at the onset of infection are two Lyme symptoms associated with the eyes.
- Multiple Sclerosis
For people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the body’s overactive immune system attacks and damages healthy nerve fibers. The optic nerve is particularly susceptible. During a routine eye exam, your optometrist can see the retina and optic nerve. A healthy optic nerve has visible nerve fibers and blood vessels. A pale optic nerve indicates damage and inflammation. MS patients often experience pain and sudden vision loss in one or both eyes.
Schedule your annual eye exam today
An annual comprehensive eye exam is a smart way to be your own best health advocate. As the eye-related symptoms to these 9 significant medical conditions above show, your optometrist can be the first to detect indicators of a larger medical problem. Early detection can be key for successful treatment! If they notice any of these symptoms, your optometrist will recommend further medical testing.
A complete eye exam, along with early intervention and treatment, can help successfully treat many diseases that affect the eye. So don’t delay: Schedule your annual eye exam today.