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Beyond a Sight Test: The Importance of Eye Exams

Posted on June 22nd, 2016

Everyone who wears glasses or contacts is familiar with eye exams. No doubt, most of us have been looking at the letter charts at the doctor’s office since we were kids. When you're so used to getting your eyes checked every year or two, it's easy to think of it as just a chore. What you may not know is that eye exams check much more than just your vision – they also detect chronic health conditions and can even save your life. With this in mind, here are six surprising conditions that can be detected by an eye exam.

Cancer

A complete eye exam can detect various types of cancer. Retinal bleeding can signal leukemia, while an optometrist may be able to diagnose a potentially fatal brain tumour based on changes to your field of vision.

High Blood Pressure

Known as The Silent Killer, high blood pressure affects one out of every five Canadians, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack, stroke, and even death.

The good news is that your eye doctor can detect the signs of high blood pressure by noticing subtle changes in your retina, a condition called hypertensive retinopathy.

Diabetes

Did you know that eye doctors commonly diagnose Type 2 diabetes? That's because a small amount of bleeding in the retina can be a telltale sign of diabetic retinopathy. Another common sign of diabetic retinopathy is dramatic fluctuations in your vision. These changes are caused by high glucose levels in your blood stream, affecting the shape of the crystalline lens in your eye and therefore the quality of your focus. If left untreated, the condition can lead to blindness and more serious issues. Early detection via an eye exam can help ensure diabetes is effectively managed.

Heart Inflammation

Heart inflammation (also known as endocarditis) is a condition caused when the heart develops a serious bacterial infection. While the condition is fairly rare, it can be brought on by everyday activities such as eating and brushing your teeth. While harmful bacteria entering your bloodstream and making its way to the heart is to blame, the good news is that an eye exam can detect the signs of heart inflammation and start early treatment before it becomes an issue.

Temporal Arteritis

Temporal arteritis is a condition in which the temporal arteries, the passageways that supply blood to the head and brain, become inflamed or damaged, resulting in severe pain throughout the body, difficulty breathing, and a host of other symptoms. Although the exact cause of the condition is unknown, researchers believe it may be linked to the body’s autoimmune response, and know that women and individuals over the age of 60 tend to be more prone. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure, but the condition can be treated with steroids to minimize symptoms.

Like other cardiovascular and heart conditions, symptoms of temporal arteritis often appear in the eyes, including blurred vision, double vision, a permanent loss of sight in one eye, and drooping eyelids. If you've experienced any of these symptoms, speak with your health care professional or optometrist right away.

Carotid Artery Disease

This heart condition occurs when plaque (made up of fat, cholesterol, and other harmful substances) builds up inside your carotid artery, blocking the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other areas of your body. The results can be devastating, eventually leading to a heart attack, stroke, and death.

Your optometrist may be able to detect carotid artery disease during an eye exam, but one symptom that may indicate the condition is the temporary loss of vision in one eye (also known as transient ischemic attack or TIA). This loss of vision generally only lasts for a few minutes, so many individuals may write it off as a one-time incident or something brought on by stress, when actually, a TIA is a bellwether sign of an impending cardiovascular event and needs to be evaluated quickly and thoroughly If you've experienced temporary vision loss in one eye, you should book an eye exam right away with your optometrist.

 

Health Canada recommends getting an eye exam at least once every two years or as soon as you notice a change in your vision. Your next visit to your eye doctor could save your life.

 

For a comprehensive eye exam that can detect potential health issues, book an appointment with an optometrist at an FYidoctors near you.