You may be surprised to know that eye doctors are much more important than giving you a pair of medicated glasses and they may be able to identify certain diseases by looking at your eyes.
The retina, or the back of the eye, is the only place in your body that gives doctors a close-up view of your blood vessels and nerves without your needing to be cut open. This makes a routine eye exam very useful for detecting important medical issues at their earliest stages.
Optic neuritis—inflammation of the optic nerve—can be a harbinger of MS, a degenerative disease of the nervous system. Optic neuritis occurs in 75 percent of patients with MS and is the first symptom of the disease in up to 25 percent of cases.
You should however note that a diagnosis of optic neuritis doesn’t automatically mean you have MS; it could also be the result of an infection or other causes. Patients with optic neuritis often have blurred vision, but doctors have diagnosed this in some people with no symptoms at all.
About 25 percent of RA patients have eye issues, and dry eye is the most common. Eye doctors also say if a patient has two bouts of iritis—painful inflammation of the iris, or the coloured part—in a year, or three in 18 months, there is a likelihood that such patient may have rheumatoid arthritis.
People with RA, an inflammatory disease that affects small joints in the hands and feet, have high levels of inflammatory chemicals in their blood. Sometimes these can migrate to the eyeball as well as to the joints.
An eye examination may save your life. Doctors can find everything from brain tumours to breast and lung cancers that have spread to the eye. Certain types of bleeding in the retina can signal leukemia. Eye doctors can diagnose brain tumours based on changes in a patient’s field of vision.
Malignant melanoma can strike in back of the eye, and patients often don’t know it is there unless the cancer is in the very center of their field of vision.
One of the first clues for type 2 diabetes may be a small amount of bleeding in the retina, which is a symptom of diabetic retinopathy. Eye doctors see this even before patients are diagnosed with diabetes.
Left untreated, the condition can lead to blindness, but managing it cuts this risk in half. When diabetic retinopathy is detected early, lifestyle changes such as eating healthier and losing weight can help prevent further damage.
High blood pressure
Blood vessel damage, including weakening and narrowing of the arteries, can signal high blood pressure. Multiple studies have found links between heart disease and narrowing of small blood vessels in the retina, according to a paper in the American Journal of Medicine.