It’s a cliché that your eyes are the window to your soul. But did you know they are often the window to the health of your whole body?
A regular eye examination, such as those we conduct at Sydney Laser & Vision Centre, can reveal a host of other underlying health conditions that might not otherwise be detected. Here are nine illnesses that may be overlooked without a thorough eye exam:
People with undiagnosed Diabetes will often complain of blurry vision or an acute or sudden decrease in vision. Poorly regulated blood sugar can contribute to changes in the crystalline lens inside your eye that cause it to change focus and vision to decrease.
In more advanced diabetes, you may also have swelling around your macula – the part of your retina you use to see detail, such as faces and text. This is called macular oedema and is the #1 cause of vision loss from diabetes. One in three diabetics over the age of 40 will also have signs of diabetic retinopathy in their eyes – blood and other fluids leaking from the blood vessels inside the eye.
If Diabetes is suspected, diagnosis can be confirmed with a simple blood test. However, if it is left undetected, and therefore untreated, it can result in permanent partial vision loss, or even blindness. Diabetes can also result in foot ulcers, kidney disease and a host of other health complications.
2. Hypertension (high blood pressure)
People with undiagnosed high blood pressure will often complain to their eye doctor of headaches. Hypertension causes damage to the retina, resulting in the changes to the tiny blood vessels (including leakage of blood and other fluids) inside your eyes. This can be diagnosed by an ophthalmologist by examining your eyes after dilating your pupils with eyedrops. They can clearly see your blood vessels and determine if they are damaged or not.
Without regular eye exams, these signs are missed. Untreated hypertension can result in permanent loss of vision, including blindness. Hypertension can also cause stroke, kidney disease and many other significant health issues. Once diagnosed, it can be managed with medication.
3. Hyperthyroidism – early signs in the eye
Hyperthyroidism is a disease related to the overproduction of thyroid hormone in your body. Symptoms include anxiety, weight loss, insomnia and bulging eyes. If, during your eye exam, your eyes are detected to be bulging slightly from their sockets, your eye doctor will order an MRI and blood tests to see if you have this condition. If Hyperthyroidism remains undetected and untreated then it can cause major complications with the heart including arrythmias (such as atrial fibrillation) and even sudden cardiac arrest, which can result in death.
4. Eye Tumours
Your eye doctor may suspect an Orbital (eye or eye-socket) tumour if you complain of pain behind the eye. A concrete diagnosis can be made following an MRI scan. This is a very serious disease. If an Orbital Tumour is present, but not detected, it can result in blindness, a metastatic spread of cancer throughout the body, and even death.
5. Brain Tumour
In rare cases, headaches may be symptomatic of a Brain Tumour. Your ophthalmologist may diagnose this serious condition if they discover swelling at the head of your optic nerve during an eye exam. An MRI scan of the brain will reveal if there is a tumour. Brain Tumours which remain undetected and untreated can result in metastatic cancer, neurological deficit, and death.
6. Auto Immune Diseases – eye signs
There are many different types of Auto Immune Diseases. For instance, Ankylosing Spondylitis may be suspected if your eyes suddenly become painful and very light sensitive (photosensitive), due to inflammation of your iris (the coloured part of your eye). A blood test is used to confirm diagnosis of this condition. If not detected and treated, then this Auto Immune Disease will continue to progress, often with debilitating effects, eg: joint and muscle pain, and spinal disease.
7. Sjogren’s Syndrome (severe dry eye)
Another autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome affects the tear gland that produces your watery tears. This is called the lacrimal gland. Most of us suffer from dry eye at some time or another, especially if we spend a lot of time looking at screens. However, if you have permanently dry eyes and a dry mouth, your eye doctor may order a blood test to rule out this condition, which causes severe dry eye and other symptoms of dryness.
8. Metastatic cancer
This is when cancer has spread to other tissues from a primary tumour and is very serious. There are many different types of metastatic cancer. It may be suspected by your eye doctor if they find a tumour of the choroid – a layer of your eye underneath your retina. This finding will prompt examination and scans to find the primary tumour. If not detected and treated, metastatic cancer will progress throughout the body and cause eventual death.
9. Stroke – signs in your eye
A loss of peripheral vision may be a sign that you’ve had a Stroke. This loss can be picked up in a routine eye exam. An MRI scan is used to confirm the diagnosis. Stroke can result in permanent partial visual loss and blindness.
Take home message…
Remember, your eyes are a vital organ of your body. If you suffer from any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Sometimes, you will have no symptoms, but a routine eye test will reveal signs of disease that only an eye doctor can see.
Regular eye checks are important for everybody. If you have already been diagnosed with any of the above conditions, however, more frequent eye checks are essential.