The eyes are often referred to as the windows to your soul. Thanks to the transparent tissue of the cornea, your eyes indeed are windows to the inner workings of your body. The eye is the only place where blood vessels, nerves, and connecting tissue are easily seen through a simple examination. The condition of the blood vessels in the eye can give clues to the health of other blood vessels in the body. Many systemic diseases- diseases that affect many organs or the whole body- also affect the eye. Sometimes, an eye exam can lead to the first diagnosis of systemic disease. Eye exams and tests have an important role in the early diagnosis of several conditions including hypertension, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and cancer.
Changes to the blood vessels, nerves, and tissue in the eye can provide clues to diagnosing medical conditions and systemic diseases. For example, conditions affecting the central nervous system are depicted in the optic nerve and eye movements since they are highly connected to the brain. Hypertension or high blood pressure can be easily diagnosed by changes in the eye’s blood vessels. Various types of ocular inflammation can also be matched to the condition causing it. For example, uveitis is a type of inflammation that is commonly caused by sarcoidosis, resulting in red eyes, blurred vision, and glaucoma. Scleritis is another type of inflammation that affects the white part of the eye, the sclera, and results from systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. Each clue from the eye tells a different story about what is going on in the body. Eye doctors can use these clues to help diagnose certain medical conditions.
Abnormal growth of new retinal blood vessels
Bleeding inside the eye
Changes in retinal blood vessels
Fluctuations in vision
Abnormal retinal circulation
Limitations of eye movement
Damage to the optic nerve
Abnormal retinal vessels
Bleeding inside the retina
Problems with eye movement
Swelling of the optic nerve
A routine physical exam with your primary care physician is an important step to ensuring you are in good health, and it can be a preventative step to detecting early warning signs for various medical conditions. Routine eye exams with your optometrist play a similar role. Eye screenings can uncover the early onset of medical conditions or they can provide timely diagnoses that can be life-saving.
A local optometrist, Dr. Carlos Green, uncovered a brain aneurysm in a patient who came to him complaining of periodic double vision and vision loss. Twenty-two-year-old Olivia Rodriguez had been suffering from headaches, nausea, blackouts, and dizziness. Her primary care physician had attributed the symptoms to stress from being a student and mother to a two-year-old when blood tests came back normal. Dr. Green’s eye examination showed that Ms. Rodriguez had 20/20 vision, but he noticed that one of her eyes would turn inward periodically, causing the double vision. After dilating her pupils, Dr. Green noticed that Ms. Rodriguez’s optic nerves were swollen. After running more tests, Dr. Green referred Ms. Rodriguez to the emergency room where they confirmed his diagnosis of an aneurysm. Ms. Rodriguez was immediately hospitalized and had brain surgery six days later, which saved her life.
Coastal Vision Medical Group Medical Group founder and medical director, Dr. Dan B Tran, had a similar life-saving discovery in January of this year. Dr. Tran found a blocked carotid artery and impending stroke in a patient and sent him to the emergency room immediately. The emergency room doctors confirmed Dr. Tran’s diagnosis and helped Mr. Arnold make a full recovery. Mr. Arnold expressed his gratitude to Dr. Tran: “Thank you to Dr. Tran for his expertise and kindness along with his sense of urgency. I am very grateful, as I may not be alive if it was not for him.”
Routine eye exams are especially important for young children. Eye conditions that develop in early childhood can be remedied before they are permanent, which usually occurs around the age of seven. As with adults, these eye exams can also be life-saving for children when it comes to diagnosing life-threatening illnesses. A physical exam with your primary care physician and a routine eye exam with your optometrist should be scheduled annually. If your vision changes between then, you can make an appointment with your optometrist. See your optometrist immediately if you are experiencing sudden blurred vision or vision loss that lasts for more than a day.