Eye Examinations and Your Health

Author: Premier Eye Associates

A visit to your eye doctor can tell you more than just your glasses prescription.  Examination of your eyes can reveal important facts about your overall health. Many common systemic conditions, such as high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes, can have significant effects on the health of the eyes that may be identified during a routine eye examination.  The likelihood of changes occurring in the eye increase dramatically if the underlying systemic condition is not properly controlled. This means that your eye doctor may be the one to inform you, and your primary care doctor, of significant health problems.

How Are the Eyes Affected by Hypertension and Diabetes?

High blood pressure and Type 2 Diabetes are becoming increasingly prevalent in the American population.  As these conditions become more common, an increased number of people are experiencing the sight-threatening complications associated with these diseases.  Both conditions affect blood vessels throughout the body, and the small fragile vessels in the retina of the eye are particularly susceptible to changes from these diseases.  Effects on the eyes from hypertension and diabetes can range from mild changes of the retinal vessels to serious ischemia or vascular occlusions.


Retinopathy: A Clue About Systemic Health Issues

Hypertension and diabetes can both cause forms of retinopathy, in which the retinal blood vessels leak blood or proteins, or have areas of inadequate blood flow.  Retinopathy can vary in severity, from a few tiny spots of blood, to complicated hemorrhages. In both diabetes and high blood pressure, retinopathy typically takes many years to develop, and may be a sign that the underlying disease is not being adequately controlled.

In severe cases of retinopathy resulting from hypertension or diabetes, serious threats to vision may exist.  In diabetic retinopathy, retinal swelling has the potential to cause permanent damage and vision loss, and there is even an increased risk for retinal detachments.   Severe hypertensive retinopathy may result in inadequate blood flow to the optic nerve, which can cause significant neural damage.


Beyond Diabetes and Hypertension

Beyond these two conditions, many other systemic diseases can have ocular manifestations which may indicate the severity of the disease, or how well the condition is being managed.  Thyroid dysfunction can manifest as bulging eyes, and can have an array of concurrent problems ranging from corneal dryness to optic nerve compression. Your eye doctor may be able to tell if you have high levels of cholesterol, simply by looking at the front surface of your eye.  They may even be able to determine if you are at an increased risk of stroke; small clots in retinal blood vessels may cause transient vision loss and can be indicative of significant cardiovascular disease or carotid clots.

Because optometrists have the ability to gather so much information regarding your systemic health, it is important to establish a regular follow-up schedule with your doctor.  If you don’t have significant health risks, a yearly eye examination will likely be sufficient. If the doctor sees changes in your ocular health due to associated health factors, more frequent visits may be required.    


Dr. Anthony Spina and the staff of Premier Eye Associates is trained in the diagnosing medical disease as it relates to the health of your eyes.  Call us  at (334) 539-5391 or schedule an appointment online. Our office and eye doctor provide the highest quality services in Auburn, AL area.

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