Diabetes, high blood pressure, Sickle cell disease, thyroid disorders and even certain types of cancer can be diagnosed by an eye examination. Everything from allergies to autoimmune diseases can present with eye symptoms first. So your eyes are not only the windows to your soul, but also the overall health of your body!
This week I'd like to tell you about three diseases that can be picked up on by an optometrist after a detailed eye exam.
1. High blood pressure
This condition puts extra strain on your blood vessels. If left untreated, it can lead to a heart attack or a stroke, among other serious illnesses. As a person with high blood pressure, you may or may not experience any symptoms. That is why it is also called the "silent killer" disease.
An optometrist can see changes in the blood vessels at the back of the eye such as leakages, and alterations in the appearance of the vessels. In some one with long standing high blood pressure, they see narrowing of the arteries in the back of the eye. They can also see twisted, curled up vessels. If the arteries are really thickened, they can push on the veins to the point where they cross and actually cause indentations in the veins. The arteries can start looking silvery or coppery rather than red, their normal colour.
Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness in Canada. Many adults with Type 2 diabetes are unknowingly walking around with higher than normal blood sugar levels. If you don’t go to your doctor for annual examinations and have the blood work done, you could have diabetes for years and not have a formal diagnosis.
Diagnosed diabetics visit an eye doctor yearly to monitor the disease’s ocular impact, but sometimes patients come in because of blurry vision or for a routine exam and the optometrist is the first to suspect diabetes.
The optometrist can see damage to tiny blood vessels due to persistently high blood sugar levels. New, fragile vessels can form, which can leak a yellowish, fatty substance beneath the retina. Some people have swelling or blood in and around certain parts of the retina. This causes vision disturbances.
3. Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
MS is a chronic autoimmune disorder affecting vision, sensation, balance, strength, coordination and other bodily functions. Some patients can present with ocular symptoms before they receive a formal diagnosis of MS.
When optometrists see inflammation and swelling of the optic nerve, a condition called optic neuritis, MS is one of the possibilities. The person is referred to the family physician or to a neurologist, depending on other symptoms they experience. A detailed patient history, physical examination and an MRI can help confirm the diagnosis.
Here are five eye disturbances you should never ignore:
1. Painful red eyes
This could be a symptom of a number of autoimmune diseases like thyroid abnormalities, rheumatoid arthritis or even lupus.
2. Yellow eyes
Yellow eyes usually point towards liver disease. Both hepatitis and cirrhosis can turn the whites of the eyes yellow.
3. Bulging eyes
If your eyes bulge out abnormally, it can be a sign of thyroid eye disease, a condition related to autoimmune thyroid disease.
4. Uneven pupils
If you notice one pupil is larger than the other or that one pupil reacts inappropriately when exposed to light – it could signify an underlying medical problem. You should see your doctor immediately.
5. Eye spasms
Annoying eye twitches are caused by contractions of the eyelid muscles due to irritation of the muscle fibres. The underlying cause is almost always benign like stress, fatigue or caffeine. But if it is persistent or occurs on a regular basis, best see your doctor about it.
Most optometrists recommend that you have a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years, depending on your age, risk factors and whether you currently wear eyeglasses or contact lenses. Children need regular eye exams as well, to detect vision problems that may interfere with learning. We all know when to make our appointments with our doctors and dentists, just make sure you don't forget your optometrist!
I can imagine how challenging it can be for someone to carry on with their life while dealing with vision problems. At in4MED, we can make this stressful time easier by providing you with information about your condition, connecting you to local support systems and being there for you as your trusted health advocates. As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment.
Healthcare Consultant, in4MED
The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.
*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.