Aside from accidentally realising in my late 40s that I actually needed reading glasses after all, my eyes have served me well.
I put that down to good genes. Thanks Mum.
But what many don’t know is that your eyes can also be the windows to your general health.
A simple eye test could in fact show signs of a number of serious conditions which could need further investigation by a GP or specialist to confirm a diagnosis and be managed appropriately.
Specsavers Optometrist Karen Walsh describes some of the conditions that have signs that can show up.
1. Diabetic eye disease
Research indicates that three quarters of adults are unaware that optometrists can check for signs of wider health conditions, including diabetesi .
Diabetic eye disease or diabetic retinopathy is when the blood vessels at the back of the eye are damaged, causing vision loss.
When in early stages, diabetic retinopathy does not usually cause any noticeable symptoms, so you may not even know you have it.
However, an eye health check can detect the condition before you notice any changes to your vision.
“Diabetes can affect small blood vessels in the eye, damaging the retina, which is vital for sight. We can pick up on early characteristic changes, such as tiny leaks from damaged blood vessels,” says Karen.
2. High blood pressure
It is not uncommon for someone to be informed that they may have high blood pressure as a result of observations made by their optometrist during a routine eye health check.
When examining the retina, an optometrist can see whether or not the blood vessels are narrowed or are leaking.
“Patients with high blood pressure can develop a condition called hypertensive retinopathy. In this condition blood vessel walls can thicken, narrowing the vessels and restricting blood flow. In some cases, the retina becomes swollen and the blood vessels can leak,” says Karen.
3. Cardiovascular disease
Having high cholesterol – which can lead to heart problems or a stroke – doesn’t usually have any symptoms. However, it can cause blockages in any of the body’s blood vessels, including those in the eyes.
“We can spot signs of cholesterol in the retinal blood vessels. These can block blood vessels resulting in short episodes of visual loss,” says Karen.
Autoimmune forms of the disease, like rheumatoid arthritis, as well as causing inflammation in your joints, can also cause inflammation in your eyes.
“This condition can very commonly cause dry eye, occasionally it can cause more serious conditions like inflammation of the iris,” says Karen.
5. Ocular tumours
Some people may be aware that eye tests can detect cancers of the eye such as melanomas, but possibly don’t know that they may also detect signs of brain tumours.
Karen says: “Swelling of the optic nerves can be visible during an eye health check and can indicate the possibility of a brain tumour.”