Eye exams aren’t just about getting a new prescription for glasses or contact lenses. In fact, they are so much more, and offer a glimpse not only into the health of your eyes, but your body as a whole.
That's because your eyes happen to offer an unobstructed view of your retina, lenses, corneas, pupils and blood vessels, providing your eye doctor with vital clues about the health of other parts of your body.
With that in mind, here are four ways an eye exam could help detect many other conditions.
There are a number of different types of cancers that can potentially be detected with a complete eye exam. Certain types of bleeding in the retina, for example, can signal leukemia. An optometrist may be able to diagnose a potentially fatal brain tumour based on changes to a patient's field of vision. Malignant eye melanoma can also occur in the back of the eye with generally no noticeable symptoms for the patient until later stages of the disease.
Many patients who aren't necessarily experiencing any symptoms can be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes after visiting their eye doctor. This is because a small amount of bleeding in the retina can be the telltale sign of diabetic retinopathy. If left untreated, the condition can lead to blindness and more serious issues. Additionally, an optometrist could notice unusual changes in a patient’s refraction (glasses prescription), which could also be a sign of diabetes. Detecting it early and implementing treatment and lifestyle changes, however, means that a diabetes diagnosis can be effectively managed.
Patients suffering from high blood pressure experience a narrowing of the arteries—something that can at times be detected during a complete eye exam. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Medicine actually found a direct correlation between heart disease and the narrowing of small blood vessels in the retina. For eye doctors, these details can indicate the signs of heart disease and high blood pressure, particularly for patients who may not seem to be at risk. A substance known as "Hollenhorst plaques" can also be seen in the blood vessels of the retina and may indicate blocked carotid arteries, resulting in a higher risk of a stroke.
Optic neuritis is an inflammation of the optic nerve which can also be an indicator of MS, a degenerative disease that affects the nervous system. According to Dr. Mitchell Munson, President of the American Optometric Association, optic neuritis occurs in 75% of all patients with MS and is often the first symptom of the disease in as many as 25% of all cases (although a diagnosis of optic neuritis doesn’t automatically mean you have MS, and could also be the result of an infection or other causes.) Early detection can help improve an MS patient’s quality of life.
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 help you detect possible health problems.
To book your next eye exam, contact an FYidoctors near you.