by Laura Young
Now that the new year has begun, many people have made resolutions to be healthier in 2011. Comprehensive eye examinations are a very important part of the new healthier you. When asked, most people would say their eye sight is their most precious sense, yet many people have not had an eye examination in more than three years. Good eye sight is not the only reason to have an eye exam. Many systemic diseases can be found in the eye as well.
During a comprehensive eye examination, the eyes are checked for common eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration. But the eye doctor also checks for early signs of high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes, thyroid disease, some types of cancer and many others conditions. All of these systemic diseases can often be found in a routine eye exam.
The eye is a very complex organ that is linked to our brain and filled with tiny blood vessels that link to our circulatory system. So, when there are problems with the vascular system – or blood vessels – these changes often can be seen very easily during the dilation portion of an eye examination.
For example, high blood pressure and diabetes can cause blood vessels to change their size or shape in the eye, and they can even leak blood or fluid. Eye doctors are often one of the first doctors to notice these types of changes, and they will recommend that you see your primary-care doctor for further testing and management of the problem.
Cholesterol changes, particularly carotid artery disease (which is the blockage of the arteries in the neck that go from the heart into the brain), often can be detected in the eye. The arteries in the eye can have cholesterol build-up, plaque or deposits in the vessels. This can lead to decreased blood flow and can be a significant risk for a stroke in the eye or the brain.
Thyroid disease often affects the eyes. Changes in the eyes can be anything from mild dry-eye syndrome to severe inflammation and swelling of the tissue around the eye that could even lead to vision loss. Eye doctors can help a person with thyroid disease control their eye symptoms and keep them as comfortable as possible.
Cancer is a very serious and unfortunate disease that can affect every tissue in the body, and the eye is no exception. There can be cancer in and around the eye and or brain that affects the eye and visual system. The eye also can be the site of secondary tumors or metastasis from tumors found in other parts of the body, including the lungs, breast or liver.
It is important to remember that vision is not a good indicator of healthy eyes or the absence of systemic disease. Far too often, I see patients that have 20/20 vision, and yet they have significant signs of a systemic disease in their eyes that I find during their exams.
Let’s make 2011 a healthy year for you. Schedule yourself a comprehensive eye examination today.
Dr. Laura Young is an optometrist at Premier Family Eye Care in Indian Trail. She completed a primary care and ocular disease residency and is experienced in seeing patients of all ages.