Eye exams can reveal other serious health conditions

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Eyes: The windows to your health

Your eyes can tell a lot about your health. While an eye exam can reveal eye disorders such as cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration, it can also provide clues to serious conditions such as autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes and even sexually transmitted diseases.

“It's the only place in the body where we can see a blood vessel, for example, without cutting the body open,” says Alan McCormick, OD, with Via Christi Clinic.

Changes in the eye's retina, optic nerve and connective tissue — along with physical appearances around the eyes — may signal the need for follow-up care with your family physician.

Here are 12 conditions your eyes can reveal:

HIV/AIDS, lupus and other autoimmune diseases. These diseases can cause the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, to become severely inflamed, which may lead to blindness.

Chlamydia. Symptoms of this sexually transmitted disease can show up in the eye and mimic pink eye, or conjunctivitis, when the outermost layer of the inner surface of the eyelids (the conjunctiva) becomes inflamed.

Herpes. Individuals prone to cold sores may have similar lesions affect the front surface of the eyes.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This digestive condition can be revealed by severe swelling in the iris, a condition called intraocular inflammation.

Multiple sclerosis. A pale, swollen optic nerve can signal one has this debilitating disease. Some studies also suggest retinal thinning may occur in higher rates in people with MS.

Overactive thyroid. One of the most obvious signs of an overactive thyroid (Grave's disease) is bulging eyes, known medically as exophthalmos.

High cholesterol. A gray ring around the cornea can be a sign of high cholesterol, putting you at risk for heart attack or stroke. It can also be detected by yellowish plaque in blood vessels of the retina.

High blood pressure. Normally, blood vessels in the retina take a straight path. If they have bends and kinks, you may have hypertension, putting you at risk for heart attack or stroke. In bad cases, there can be bleeding, a sort of stroke in the eye, that leads to vision loss.

Skin cancer. Lesions of this common cancer can show up on an eyelid. If ignored, basal cell carcinomas in such close proximity to your eye can lead to blindness or can spread to the brain through the eye.

Tumors. Droopy eyelids along with pupils that aren't the same size can point to tumors in the neck area and possible aneurysms. Droopy eyelids can also be a sign of muscle weakness, possibly caused by other diseases.

Diabetes. Leaky yellowish fluids and hemorrhaging in the retina often reflect that a patient has diabetes. This retinal bleeding can lead to blindness.

Marfan syndrome. About one in 5,000 people have this genetic disorder, which affects connective tissue — the type of tissue that holds the eye's lens in place. Changes in that tissue can signal one has this serious disease, which can lead to weakening of the aortic walls. 

Schedule an eye exam

To protect your vision — and your health — optometrists recommend annual exams, particularly from ages 3 to 18 and after age 40, and no less than every two years.

The eye disorders of cataracts (the clouding of the lens), glaucoma (which damages the optic nerve) and macular degeneration (which damages the retina) are often age-related.

Chances to save your sight are better if those conditions are caught early, says Dr. McCormick.

Via Christi Clinic Optometry has three locations in Wichita:

612 N. Andover Rd., Andover, KS 67002

Carriage Parkway
818 N. Carriage Parkway, Wichita, KS 67208

West 21st
13213 W. 21st St. N, Wichita, KS 67235


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