What Your Eye Exam Says About Your Health
Yes, your eyes are the window to your soul or whatever. But, they can also be a surprisingly helpful window into your overall health. So, and Safety Month, we talked to Mark Jacquot, OD, clinical director at LensCrafters, to find out more about what we can learn from our peepers.
Certain health conditions don’t impact vision in their early stages, Dr. Jacquot says. But, those early and indirect effects can still be caught during eye exams. Of course, your regular (non-eye) doctor is on the lookout for this stuff, too, but if you’re curious, here are a few things your next eye exam can tell you about while you’re mulling over a new set of frames.
“If an eye doctor sees leaky blood vessels in the eye, that is an immediate signal that someone could be diabetic,” says Dr. Jacquot. “Diabetes causes significant damage to vision over time, so it’s a relief when we can catch this during an eye exam; it means we can start managing the condition early and hopefully save or preserve someone’s sight later in life.” If it’s not kept in check, diabetes can also damage small blood vessels in the brain and kidneys—another reason to catch it early.
“During an eye exam, we get a direct look at blood vessels and the optic nerve that leads to the brain,” explains Dr. Jacquot. “If we see swelling or shadows, that’s a sign that there could be something very serious, like a tumor in the brain or dangerous clots that can lead to strokes.” Dr. Jacquot says he’s had to send patients directly from a routine eye exam to a specialist or even to the emergency room. “Often, more tests are needed in these cases, but a basic eye exam can recognize if there is something in need of further investigation,” he says.
High Blood Pressure
It turns out that “one of the easiest ways to detect hypertension or high blood pressure is through a routine eye exam,” Dr. Jacquot says. It’s especially evident in the tiny, delicate blood vessels in the eyes. “As high blood pressure progresses, the eye doctor will see narrowing of the arteries inside of the eye,” he explains. “As the disease progresses further, the arteries within the eye can become silver or copper-colored.”
High cholesterol can cause the accumulation of plaque along the walls of blood vessels, clogging arteries in the body. “This also happens in the eye, making it easy for an eye doctor to spot fatty deposits,” Dr. Jacquot says. “An eye doctor can see cholesterol deposits in the back of the eye, as well as on the front of the eye, which can appear as a thin, gray rim around the cornea.” And, those deposits also suggest your risk factor for another condition, retinal blood vessel occlusion, in which those blockages restrict blood flow to the eye, causing temporary or permanent loss of vision.