Your eyes are truly the windows to your health. In addition to checking how your eyes see, function, and treating these as necessary, our optometrist also examines how your eyes relate to the rest of your body. Many conditions will affect multiple parts of the body, and your eyes are sensitive to these changes - if you are not seeing well, you often notice it immediately. The eye is also the only location in the body that a doctor can look inside the body without using surgery. Read on to learn about the various systemic conditions that our eye doctor looks for in an eye examination.
The eyes are fed by numerous small blood vessels, so anything affecting these can in turn affect the eyes. In addition, anything that affects the brain’s blood supplies will also likely affect its connections to the eyes and, thus, vision. High blood pressure, for example, can cause bleeding and damage to the retina and optic nerve at the back of the eyes, leading to reduced vision, and damage to nerves that move the eyes around, leading to eye turns. Atherosclerosis can also lead to obstructed retinal vessels and damage to the retina, while stroke can cause visual field loss (parts of your visual scene completely missing) and nerve paralysis, again leading to reduced ability to move the eyes and eye turns.
Diabetes is an increasingly common condition in the world, especially with older age groups. It causes increased levels of sugar in the bloodstream, which damages blood vessels and other structures. In the eye, this has many complications, and if you have diabetes, you are likely seeing an eye doctor regularly for checkups. One of the main things our optometrist will look for is diabetic retinopathy, or damage and bleeding at the back of the eye.
Other complications include raised pressure in the eyes, large changes in your glasses prescription, early cataracts, sluggish pupil responses, gradual wearing down of ocular tissues, new and leaky blood vessel formation, damage at the front of the eye with impaired healing, dry eyes, and, again, paralysis of eye muscles.
There are other hormonal disorders that manifest in the eyes as well. Thyroid disease can cause a buildup of inflammatory and scar tissue in behind the eyes that restrict movement, cause pain and inflammation, cause double vision, and can damage the optic nerve, leading to permanent vision loss.
Disorders of the pituitary, the gland within the brain that produces many important hormones, can also cause ocular changes. One notable finding of this would be a tumor affecting the pituitary gland, which would cause a large amount of visual field loss.
Prolonged deficiency of certain nutrients can harm the eyes. This includes vitamin A deficiency, which can result in night blindness and extreme eye dryness. Smoking, of course, leads to many ocular consequences, including irritation and redness, dry eyes, earlier onset of cataracts, increased risk of macular degeneration and vascular disease, and can exacerbate other problems like nutritional deficiencies and hormonal issues.
Alcohol can also lead to many issues. Children with fetal alcohol syndrome nearly always have ocular complications, and alcohol can lead to many of the same consequences as smoking with the additional distortions to eye movements and focusing abilities.
Finally, inflammatory bowel diseases can cause dry eyes and other inflammatory reactions in the eyes like pink eyes and inflammation of the iris or colored part of the eye. Diseases of the liver can cause jaundice, which is a yellowing of the white part of the eye.