They say your eyes are the windows to your soul. While that may be true, they can also be windows to your overall medical health. Even though ophthalmologists focus on eye conditions and diseases, they are often able to detect medical conditions unrelated to the eyes during eye exams. Sometimes, they can discover medical conditions and diseases before you or your family doctor recognize other typical symptoms.
Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 35% of respondents to a survey said they don't get annual eye exams because they don't think they need to. However, since some of the medical conditions that can be found by ophthalmologists can be fatal, it's a good idea to have your eyes examined annually whether you think you need to or not. Here are 5 medical conditions and diseases your ophthalmologist can find.
- Anderson-Fabry's Disease—A condition in which you don't have alpha galactosidase A, which is an enzyme that prevents the buildup of lipid ceramide trihexosidase. When this lipid builds up, it can cause renal failure and lead to death. The way to prevent this from happening is to take enzyme replacement therapy and medication. According to eyeworld.org, eye doctors are usually the first to notice this disease and, sometimes, their patients have no idea they have it.
- Carotid Artery Disease—Your carotid arteries are what supplies blood (and oxygen) to your eyes and brain. When the carotid arteries are blocked or the flow of blood is diminished, the eyes and brain are not able to receive the oxygen they need to remain healthy. A completely blocked carotid artery can cause a stroke, and a partially blocked carotid artery can cause a transient ischemic attack. Strokes and transient ischemic attacks can come on suddenly, but your ophthalmologist can discover the buildup of debris on the artery walls that can the blockages before the blockages affect your health.
- High Blood Pressure--Hypertension, the medical word for high blood pressure, can be seen during an eye exam. Hypertension causes the pressure on your arteries to be higher than normal, and this added pressure on the artery walls can lead to serious health implications such as a heart attack. When your ophthalmologist exams your eyes with a magnification, he or she is able to notice the effects of high blood pressure on the small blood vessels and nerves. While high blood pressure if typically noted at your doctor's office, you may not realize you have high blood pressure if you don't visit your doctor regularly.
- Pre-Diabetes—Diabetes can damage the eyes with a co-morbid condition called diabetic retinopathy. Those who are in the developing or pre-diabetic stage often have early stages of diabetic retinopathy as well. With these conditions, the blood vessels inside the eyes become weak. Fats and unprocessed blood sugars can leak out of the weakened blood vessels. These leakages can damage the retina and make it difficult for you to see clearly. Ophthalmologists may see spots of blood in your retina if you have pre-diabetes.
- Tumor Growth—An ophthalmologist examined a 9-year-old boy and found evidence of a tumor growing behind his eyes during an examination. The tumor was putting pressure on the optic nerve, which caused it to change to an abnormal color. The ophthalmologist referred the boy to a brain surgeon immediately, and the tumor was removed. Even though the tumor was found to be benign, it could have killed the boy if it had not been found and removed. The boy had complained about headaches and blurred vision, but the tumor was not found during a CT scan ordered by his doctor.
Keep in mind that this list only represents a small number of the medical conditions and diseases that can have affects on the eyes and the ocular cells. It's also important to understand that an annual eye exam should not replace an annual checkup with your physician.
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