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Your Eyes Are the Windows to Your Health

Your eyes aren’t just the windows to your soul — they can also reveal valuable information about your general health beyond whether you need glasses, including: diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. It is not unusual for people to come in for an eye exam just to check their eyesight and then have certain health issues or predispositions picked up by the optometrist. 

Eye Exams and Your Health

Eye examinations can help doctors detect general health conditions early enough to intervene. Advanced screenings enable eye doctors to better predict cardiovascular incidents like stroke, and possibly detect signs of mental changes such as Alzheimer’s. Read below to learn how eye exams can unveil a whole lot more than just eye health.

Brain Cancer & Stroke

Because of the similarities between the blood vessels in the eye and brain, an eye doctor can occasionally detect an issue taking place in the brain by examining the blood vessels in the eyes. If swelling or shadows in the eye is observed, it may indicate a serious condition in the brain, like a tumor, or clots that might result in a stroke.

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye, resulting in Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) and Diabetic Macular Edema (DME). If an optometrist detects leaky blood vessels in the eye, the patient would be advised to see a doctor to help control their blood sugar. Changes are gradual, and they start before visual symptoms are noticed. The earlier diabetic eye disease is managed, the better the chances are of preserving eyesight. 

Hypertension

High blood pressure, characterized by having too much pressure in the blood vessels, can be detected during an eye exam, sometimes even before it’s diagnosed by your regular doctor. The damaged blood vessels lead to swelling, hemorrhages, and leaking — all of which can be observed in the eyes. According to the CDC, hypertension “the silent killer” affects nearly 1 in 3 adults, and up to a whopping 20% of those don’t even know they have it. So early detection at an eye doctor’s evaluation can be truly life-saving.

High Cholesterol 

Eye exams can also detect a buildup of cholesterol. High cholesterol is among the easiest conditions to spot during a complete eye exam, as the cholesterol deposits manifest on the front of the eye, appearing as a thin, gray rim around the cornea. It can also be detected in the retina by assessing artery and vein patterns.

These deposits may indicate the current or future development of Retinal Blood Vessel Occlusion, a condition where blockages restrict blood flow to the back of the eye, causing temporary or permanent vision loss. 

Heart Conditions

In some cases, heart conditions associated with a buildup of plaque in the carotid artery in the heart can also lead to deposits that clog the ocular arteries in the eye. If an optometrist detects such changes to the vascular structure at the back of the eye, he or she will typically recommend going to a specialist.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Sudden vision loss may be attributed to Multiple Sclerosis (MS). While the optometrist can recognize signs indicating the presence of MS, such as the color and appearance of the optic nerve, such cases will be referred for further testing to confirm the diagnosis.

Thyroid

Thyroid disease can make itself apparent through the eyes in several ways. The thyroid gland controls the hormones that regulate tear production so some thyroid disorders can cause dry eye disease. Additionally, overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can make the extraocular muscles enlarge and stiffen, causing bulging eyes — an indicator of Graves’ disease. 

Inflammation

Systemic conditions that are associated with inflammation in the body can have an inflammatory effect on the eyes. Uveitis, for example, causes eye inflammation, redness, and blurred vision, and tends to occur in people with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases. 

Cancer

Breast cancer, leukemia, and other metastatic cancers are occasionally discovered during an eye evaluation. In addition to brain cancer mentioned above, melanoma and basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) can be detected, and eye doctors can also diagnose lymphoma and other eye tumors. Eye exams save lives.

What the Future Holds 

Alzheimer’s 

Recent studies show that a non-invasive and precise imaging device called Octa (optical coherence tomography angiography) can signal the presence of eye changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Because the retina is in many ways an extension of the brain, the altered blood vessels at the back of the eye offer a glimpse into the changes taking place within the brain.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease can often be misdiagnosed as its early symptoms are characteristic of other conditions. Research has shown that subtle eye tremors, an early Parkinson’s marker, could be detectable using advanced eye exam technology. One day soon, practitioners may send patients to an eye doctor to test for this and other diseases.

Your Eye Doctor’s Appointment Could Change Your Life

So the next time you visit Dr. Michael Rosenblatt at Washington Eye Doctors in Washington, D.C., remember that a comprehensive eye exam can do more than determine your eyeglasses or contacts prescription. Dr. Michael Rosenblatt can evaluate your eyes for existing or potential health issues, and communicate them to your primary care physician for the best possible care. By knowing that you’re at risk for a certain disease, you can take precautions early on and manage the condition as needed. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Tips on How to Take Care of Your Eyes

Guidelines from your eye care specialist in Washington, D.C.

There are many routine daily actions you can take to preserve your eye health and keep your vision crisp and clear. By following a few simple practices outlined below, you can reduce your risk of developing many common ocular diseases and vision problems.

Book regular eye exams

First and foremost, visit your local eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam near you. This is the most significant way to take care of your eyes. It is typical to have a problem and not know about it, because many eye diseases don’t present with symptoms during the early stages. Once your eye care provider detects the signs of an ocular condition, you can receive treatment – and early treatment goes far towards preventing vision loss.

Be aware of your risk factors for eye diseases

Normal aging raises your risk of certain eye diseases. Additionally, your risk is higher if you:

  • Are obese or overweight
  • Have a family history of ocular disease
  • Are African American, Native American, or Hispanic
  • Have diabetes or high blood pressure

Some ocular conditions run in families, so it’s important to speak with other family members to find out about any eye problems. Then, visit a center for eye care near you to discuss your personal risk factors. The optometry team can inform you about various ways to decrease your chances of developing specific eye diseases & conditions.

Make healthy lifestyle choices

Eyes are a part of your whole body, and protecting your overall well-being can help safeguard your vision too. Healthy habits are essential, such as eating nutritiously and being physically active. These behaviors can reduce your risk for diseases that can lead to vision problems, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Our eye doctor in , shares the following guidelines for taking care of your whole body:

  • Be active: regular exercise and cardiovascular physical activity are effective ways to keep yourself healthy
  • Eat well: include plenty of dark, leafy greens in your daily diet, such as spinach, arugula, collard greens, and kale. Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, halibut, and tuna are also recommended for healthy eyes.
  • No smoking: smoking increases your chances of developing eye disease, such as cataracts and macular degeneration, and it can also damage the optic nerve.

Use eye protection

Everyone knows about the need to slather on sunscreen before spending time outdoors, but many people neglect to give their eyes the same attention.

  • Wear sunglasses and sunwear: choose sunglasses that block 100% of UVA and UVB radiation, and wear whenever you’re outdoors, even on cloudy days. Hats with a visor are also helpful at blocking the sun’s rays from reaching your eyes.
  • Let your eyes rest: gazing at a computer screen for hours on end can lead to eye fatigue. Give your eyes a break by looking at something 20 feet away, every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.
  • Put on safety glasses: certain activities, such as playing sports, doing home repairs, and working in construction all expose your eyes to potential hazards. Protect your eyes from injury by wearing safety glasses and goggles.
  • Practice eye hygiene: always wash your hands before you insert or remove your contact lenses, and follow proper cleaning and storage guidelines for your contacts, as recommended by your eye doctor. Even if you don’t wear contacts, avoid rubbing your eyes – because fingers are exposed to a lot of dirt and bacteria, which can be transferred easily to your eyes. Also, don’t forget to remove eye makeup nightly to avoid a build-up of bacteria in your ocular area.
  • Don’t dry out your eyes: make sure to stay adequately hydrated by drinking enough water, and direct air vents in your car and home towards your torso, instead of blowing directly at your eyes.

When in doubt – book an eye exam near you

If you notice any new symptoms and don’t know what they are, such as the sudden appearance of many floaters and/or light flashes in your peripheral vision, call your eye doctor immediately. These could be signs of a retinal tear or detachment, which requires urgent eye care to prevent lasting vision damage. Or if you experience blurry vision, pain, or any oozing discharge, you may have an eye infection that needs medical treatment. Any time you aren’t sure about a symptom, it’s best to practice caution and contact a center for eye care near you.

At Washington Eye Doctors, we put your family’s needs first. Talk to us about how we can help you maintain healthy vision. Call us today: 202-335-5032 or book an appointment online to see one of our Washington, D.C. eye doctors.

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