Health Magazine

Your Eyes Are the Window On… Your Health

Posted on the 25 April 2012 by Therealsupermum @TheRealSupermum


You may be one of the lucky ones, the ones for whom the world appears as crisp as a new dollar bill. You’ve never needed glasses or contacts, and so consider an annual eye exam unnecessary. What you may not realize, however, is that an eye exam is not only a tool used to diagnose vision and eye problems–it can also detect other systemic health issues. Here are only some of the diseases detectable through the eye.

A human eye after the pupil was dilated using ...

A human eye after the pupil was dilated using drops during an eye exam. Self-portrait by Ben Schumin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


  • Diabetes  Because diabetes can cause severe eye complications, including blindness, it can often first appear as fluctuations in vision or changes is the blood vessels of the retina. And once diagnosed, regular eye exams are crucial for diabetic patients. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S.
  • Hypertension  Constriction of retinal arteries is an early indicator of hypertension, followed by hardening and leaking in the arteries and exudates on the retina. If a hypertension diagnosis is uncertain, an eye exam that reveals any of these symptoms will confirm it.
  • Multiple Sclerosis  If a doctor finds changes in eye movement, vision, or function of the optic nerve, these can all be early indicators of MS, a disease of the immune system.
  • Lupus  A nasty and difficult to diagnose disease.
  • Sickle Cell Disease  Sickle cell disease is a blood disorder characterised by rigid, abnormal, sickle shaped red blood cells. This can lead to a host of complications and a greatly reduced life expectancy. Sickle cell disease can be detected in the eye from the presence of abnormal retinal vessels as well as bleeding in the retina.
  • Alzheimers  A new test still in the trial stage has been shown to quickly and accurately measure nerve cell damage in the retina that directly correlates to nerve cell damage in the brain. Besides being inexpensive and minimally invasive, this test also has the advantage of early detection, measuring damage as much as 20 years before the onset of symptoms, allowing for early treatment.


Besides systemic diseases, a routine eye test, especially in children, provides valuable information about eye health and vision. Diseases of the eye are not always a product of lifestyle and can occur in anyone.


Sarah Woods of Austin, TX, has had poor vision since childhood (subsequently corrected with Lasik) and so faithfully takes her children for annual eye exams. It was during one of these routine exams, when the eye was dilated, that the family optometrist saw first saw irregular capillaries in one of her son’s eyes. There were two possible diagnosis: one, Coats’ Disease, a disease of the eye that could eventually cause blindness in one eye; and the other, Von Hippel Lindau Syndrome, a systemic disease that would riddle his body with tumors and cause death at a young age. Luckily, genetic testing ruled out Von Hippel Lindau, and early detection and treatment has meant that her son continues to enjoy near perfect vision four years after detection. “I tell everyone to get their kids’ eyes checked once a year,” says Woods. “It’s just as important as a physical exam.”


Looking in the eyes was once part of a routine physical. It has since dropped out of favor, but increasingly doctors are realizing the the vasculature of the eye is part of the same system shared by the rest of the body, only easily visible. The eyes can even reveal heart disease or cancer, and can tell whether or not a patient is a smoker. Even if your vision is perfect, an hour spent getting an eye exam may be just what the doctor ordered.


Sally Redcross works as a nurse at an Optician in Durham, North Carolina. She sees dozens of patients every week who benefit from regular eye check ups. In many ways they are more important than any other form of medical.

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