Did you know that a routine eye exam can be extraordinarily useful for detecting significant medical issues in their earliest stages? In fact, there are a surprising number of common medical conditions that are often diagnosed first by an eye doctor, not an internist.
Most people have no idea that their eyes can reveal so much about their health. But the retina, at the back of the eye, is the only place in the body that gives doctors a close-up view of blood vessels and nerves without having to cut the body open.
“This is why it’s so important to have regular eye exams after you turn 40,” said Dr. Sandy T. Feldman. “I urge all my patients to come in for a check-up every two to four years, depending on risk factors, and more frequently after age 60. If you wear contacts, you should get an annual exam regardless of your age.”
Dr. Feldman offers several clues that might alert your eye doctor to possible underlying medical problems:
- Eyes that bulge out could signal hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland).
- Yellow scleras could signal a liver disease, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis (scarring of the organ).
- A whitish ring around the cornea could signal high cholesterol.
- Swollen or leaky blood vessels in the eyes could signal high blood pressure or diabetes.
- Severely dry eyes could signal Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder in which your white blood cells attack your body’s moisture-producing glands.
- A drooping eyelid could signal Bell’s palsy or myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness.
- Significant changes in your field of vision could signal a brain tumor or cancer.
- Frequent bouts of inflammation of the iris in a short amount of time may signal rheumatoid arthritis (RA). About 25% of patients with RA have some type of eye issue related to the disease.
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