Our bodies are a complex system of interconnected organs. The eyes have some of the smallest blood vessels in your body, and often are the ‘window’ to showing early changes in general health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and changes that may occur due to medications. Changes in your eyes can signal vision problems, stress, and even retinal detachment. What’s more, most of these you can actually see for yourself assuming you know what to look for. The American Academy of Ophthalmology has given us an outline of what your eyes reveal about your health, and how you know it’s time to visit your doctor.
At this point, researchers are working on new technologies to help doctors get a better look into the eye and catch diseases earlier. They are also designing new tools to help people with vision loss get around in their daily lives. Today’s clinical technologies to image the eye are pretty amazing, but they are undergoing tremendous advances. With new tools, eye health professionals may be able to catch disease even earlier. For example, there is a new microscope to improve the diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma. Glaucoma causes blindness by damaging nerve cells at the back of the eye. The cells that get damaged by glaucoma are hard to see in the early stages of the disease.
1. Signs and clues found in your eyes
The old saying goes that the eyes are the windows into the soul, but they can also be a window into your health. Ophthalmologists often see clues in the eyes that warn of health issues elsewhere in your body. In fact, a thorough assessment of eyes in a comprehensive eye exam also helps doctors spot early signs of some serious health problems (overall health problems) ranging from high blood pressure and diabetes to risk of stroke by examining delicate blood vessels and various other structures within human eyes.
Interestingly enough, “Any ophthalmologist who does routine eye exams can detect these problems,” says ophthalmologist Richard Gans, MD. “Eye exams are important not only for the health of the eye but also to determine if there are systemic issues that need attention,” he says. Here are some health warning signs ophthalmologists can find in your eyes.
Eye examinations can help doctors detect general health conditions early enough to intervene. Advanced screenings enable eye doctors to better predict cardiovascular incidents like stroke, and possibly detect signs of mental changes such as Alzheimer’s. Read below to learn how eye exams can unveil a whole lot more than just eye health. Your eyesight is one of your most important senses: 80% of what we perceive comes through our sense of sight. By protecting your eyes, you will reduce the odds of blindness and vision loss while also staying on top of any developing eye diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma.
Most eye care professionals recommend that you have a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years, depending on your age, risk factors and whether you currently wear eyeglasses or contact lenses. Children need regular eye exams to detect vision problems that may interfere with learning. During the exam, your eye doctor measures your visual acuity to see if you need glasses or contact lenses to improve your vision. After waiting for the dilating drops to take effect, your eye doctor checks the health of your eyes, possibly using several lights to evaluate the front of the eye and the inside of each eye.
The eye is made up of three layers: the outer layer called the fibrous tunic, which consists of the sclera and the cornea; the middle layer responsible for nourishment are called the vascular tunic, which consists of the iris, the choroid, and the ciliary body; and the inner layer of photoreceptors and neurons called the nervous tunic, which consists of the retina. The change in the shape of the lens is controlled by the ciliary muscles inside the eye.
The reflex, controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system, involves three responses: pupil constriction, lens accommodation, and convergence. Changes in the eye occur naturally over time, young adults from 18 to 39 years old should get an eye exam at least every other year, although it may be important to undergo an annual eye exam for changing eyesight. Middle-aged adults, 40 to 64 years old, should get an eye exam at least every other year.
Some diseases of the retina are more likely to occur in old age, including macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy (if people have diabetes), and detachment of the retina. Other eye diseases, such as cataracts, also become common. The muscles that squeeze the eyelids shut decrease in strength with age.
Common age-related eye problems include presbyopia, glaucoma, dry eyes, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and temporal arteritis. Age sometimes brings changes that weaken your vision and eyes, but there are things you can do to maintain lifelong eye and overall health. For more on the topic of aging have a look at this. The National Institute on Aging offers the following tips to maintain healthy strong eyes:
Wear sunglasses that block ultraviolet (UV) radiation and a wide-brimmed hat when you are outdoors.
Quit smoking, which increases the risk of eye diseases.
Eat nutritious foods that support eye health.
Be physically active and maintain a healthy weight.
Reduce high blood pressure, which can contribute to eye problems.
If you have diabetes, which can lead to blindness, it’s important to control it.
When focused on a computer or a single object, reduce eye strain by looking away every 20 minutes for about 20 seconds.
Regular eye exams are also important to catch problems before they can develop into something more serious.
There are two main factors that help determine your eye color: the amount and pattern of dark brown pigment (called melanin) in the part of your eye called the iris and the way in which the iris scatters light that passes through the eye. The more important factor is the pigment, which is determined by your genes. The color of your eyes depends on how much of the pigment melanin you have in your iris (the colored part of your eyes).
The more pigment you have, the darker your eyes will be. Blue, grey, and green eyes are lighter because they have less melanin in the iris. Eyes with a lot of melanin will be naturally darker. Research has found that eye color can change in rare cases due to injury or genetics. New research shows that people with blue eyes have a single, common ancestor. A team at the University of Copenhagen have tracked down a genetic mutation which took place 6-10,000 years ago and is the cause of the eye color of all blue-eyed humans alive on the planet today.
Because of the similarities between the blood vessels in the eye and brain, an eye doctor can occasionally detect an issue taking place in the brain by examining the blood vessels in the eyes. If swelling or shadows in the eye is observed, it may indicate a serious condition in the brain, like a tumor, or clots that might result in a stroke. Cancers by themselves rarely have manifestations in the eye. However, there are certain cancers that can spread to the eyes.
Melanoma is one cancer that is primary to the eye, but it can often be found elsewhere on the body. Breast cancer is an example of a cancer that can metastasize to the eye, where it could be found before other tests show the cancer has spread. Breast cancer, leukemia, and other metastatic cancers are occasionally discovered during an eye evaluation. In addition to brain cancer mentioned above, melanoma and basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) can be detected, and eye doctors can also diagnose lymphoma and other eye tumors. Eye exams save lives.
Diabetes can cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye, resulting in Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) and Diabetic Macular Edema (DME). Blurred vision usually means you need glasses but you should have your eyes checked no matter what. Not only can blurred vision signal a medical problem with the eye itself (like cataracts or macular degeneration), it can also be a sign of a more serious illness like diabetes. In fact, an August 2014 study found that 73% of diabetic patients sampled reported blurred vision.
Even without trouble seeing, your ophthalmologist may be able to detect diabetes during an eye exam based on irregularities in your retina. Dr. Gans looks for a condition called diabetic retinopathy, which damages the blood vessels in the eye. “We can see areas of bleeding and swelling in the retina, or abnormal blood vessels developing, which are hallmarks of diabetic damage,” he says. This damage can be observed even before vision is affected. When diabetic retinopathy is detected, laser treatments and medications are used to repair blood vessels. However, surgery may be required if the bleeding is severe enough.
There’s a well-known connection between inflammatory diseases and inflammation in the eye. These include inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and lupus. Most commonly, inflammatory diseases cause uveitis, which is an inflammation of the middle part of the eye (called the uvea). Untreated, uveitis can cause permanent damage to the eye. Systemic conditions that are associated with inflammation in the body can have an inflammatory effect on the eyes.
Uveitis, for example, causes eye inflammation, redness, and blurred vision, and tends to occur in people with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases. Uveitis is a general term describing a group of inflammatory diseases that produces swelling and destroys eye tissues. These diseases can slightly reduce vision or lead to severe vision loss. The term “uveitis” is used because the diseases often affect a part of the eye called the uvea.
In the eye, high blood pressure can cause retinopathy or damage to the eye’s main blood supply. Sometimes, patients may not know they have high blood pressure, which rarely has physical symptoms but can lead to heart disease and stroke until they come in for an eye exam.
High blood pressure, characterized by having too much pressure in the blood vessels, can be detected during an eye exam, sometimes even before it’s diagnosed by your regular doctor. The damaged blood vessels lead to swelling, hemorrhages, and leaking. All of which can be observed in the eyes. According to the CDC, hypertension “the silent killer” affects nearly 1 in 3 adults, and up to a whopping 20% of those don’t even know they have it. So early detection at an eye doctor’s evaluation can be truly life-saving.
If your blood pressure is too high, in addition to upping your risk for heart disease and strokes. Untreated high blood pressure can also damage the blood vessels in your retina, known as hypertensive retinopathy. You can’t see the effects in the mirror, but your Doctor will be able to spot the damage during your eye exam, even more reason to stick to your annual screenings, considering tipping you off to high blood pressure could actually save your life.
Eye exams can also detect a buildup of cholesterol. High cholesterol is among the easiest conditions to spot during a complete eye exam, as the cholesterol deposits manifest on the front of the eye, appearing as a thin, gray rim around the cornea. It can also be detected in the retina by assessing artery and vein patterns. These deposits may indicate the current or future development of Retinal Blood Vessel Occlusion, a condition where blockages restrict blood flow to the back of the eye, causing temporary or permanent vision loss.
If your cholesterol is too high, you will probably notice a white ring forming around your corneal arcus (that’s medical speak for your iris), it might be time to visit your ophthalmologist as well as your GP for a check-up. While this particular color change is most commonly a sign of aging, it can also be an indication of high cholesterol and triglycerides. Which might mean an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
In some cases, heart conditions associated with a buildup of plaque in the carotid artery in the heart can also lead to deposits that clog the ocular arteries in the eye. If an optometrist detects such changes to the vascular structure at the back of the eye, he or she will typically recommend going to a specialist. Studies have shown that women are more likely than men to show arteriolar narrowing with an increased risk for secondary ocular vascular complications and possible vision loss.
Theoretically, this is due to a more prominent microvascular role in the development of coronary heart disease in women than men, and those with the narrowest retinal vasculature would have twice the risk. Ocular health and optimal functioning of the microvasculature in the eye rely heavily on receiving appropriate nutrients from the heart. A diet rich with fruits, vegetables, soluble fiber, and soy provides phytosterols, phytochemicals, and isoflavones that can help lower cholesterol and maintain good blood flow through the eye vessels.
Sudden vision loss may be attributed to Multiple Sclerosis (MS). While the optometrist can recognize signs indicating the presence of MS, such as the color and appearance of the optic nerve, such cases will be referred for further testing to confirm the diagnosis. A common visual symptom of MS is optic neuritis — inflammation of the optic (vision) nerve. Optic neuritis usually occurs in one eye and may cause aching pain with eye movement, blurred vision, dim vision, or loss of color vision. Vision may be lost completely in the affected eye.
Inflammation of the optic nerve that can cause a sudden loss of vision, usually in 1 eye; blurred vision; and eye pain. Optic neuritis is the most common MS-related vision problem. Approximately half of people with MS will have at least 1 episode of optic neuritis. Frequently, it is the first symptom of MS. A five-minute eye exam might prove to be an inexpensive and effective way to gauge and track the debilitating neurological disease multiple sclerosis, potentially complementing costly magnetic resonance imaging to detect brain shrinkage – a characteristic of the disease’s progression.
Thyroid disease can make itself apparent through the eyes in several ways. The thyroid gland controls the hormones that regulate tear production so some thyroid disorders can cause dry eye disease. Additionally, overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can make the extraocular muscles enlarge and stiffen, causing bulging eyes, an indicator of Graves’ disease.
The symptoms that occur in thyroid eye disease include the feeling of irritation or grittiness in the eyes, redness or inflammation of the conjunctiva (the white part of the eyeball), excessive tearing or dry eyes, swelling of the eyelids, sensitivity to light, forward displacement or bulging of the eyes (called proptosis), and double vision. Research suggests that the cause of thyroid disease and thyroid eye disease is an autoimmune disorder.
Because Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain and many seniors also have vision changes and age-related eye conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration, various kinds of visual mistakes can occur. .First, information is transmitted from your eyes to your brain where it is then interpreted.
A new study has found that people with Alzheimer’s had fewer blood vessels and less blood flow in the retina (back of their eye). The Alzheimer-linked eye changes were detected by an eye test that uses a scanning technique called Octa (optical coherence tomography angiography) can signal the presence of eye changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Because the retina is in many ways an extension of the brain, the altered blood vessels at the back of the eye offer a glimpse into the changes taking place within the brain.
Visual Disturbances Can Be Part of Parkinson’s Disease, which causes a loss of retinal cells in the eye that rely on dopamine to process and perceive color. Parkinson’s may also impact the eyelids. People with Parkinson’s blink less frequently, which can lead to dryness, irritation or burning of the eyes. Parkinson’s Disease can often be misdiagnosed as its early symptoms are characteristic of other conditions. Research has shown that subtle eye tremors, an early Parkinson’s marker, could be detectable using advanced eye exam technology.
One day soon, practitioners may send patients to an eye doctor to test for this and other diseases. Vision issues in Parkinson’s can range from dry eyes and blurry vision to difficulty controlling eye movements, the inability to open eyelids, and an increased likelihood of hallucinations. Parkinson’s can cause eye or eyelid problems, as can side effects of medications used to treat the disease
Stress can manifest in many ways, one of which is an eye twitch. It’s more annoying than concerning, but it can be a sign you need to get some more rest and manage your stress levels a bit more. Eye strain is a term used to describe many symptoms that can be brought on by stress or even just overstraining your eyes.
Some of the symptoms include blurry vision, headaches, dizziness, and dry, itchy eyes. These activities can also cause you to blink less often, which causes dry eyes. What are eye floaters and flashes? On occasion, we see something fly across our vision, a flash of light or something that suddenly appears almost overnight causing anxiety or distress. All of these could indicate an eye condition and are reasons for you to get a yearly checkup.
If your eyes are super dry and the skin around them is looking a little worn, you might be unconsciously rubbing your eyes too often. Rubbing your eye hard or often can cause your eyelid to become looser, more relaxed and even saggy. If the eyelid sags away from the eye, it not only causes wrinkles but also allows increased exposure to air and can make the eye become overly dry. One of the most common culprits of itchy eyes are seasonal allergies.
If you don’t know or you can’t avoid the cause, a doctor who specializes in eye care and surgery, an ophthalmologist or optometrist, may be able to help. It is a good idea to make an appointment with him prior to your allergic season. Allergy symptoms can be very annoying. Yet they pose little threat to eyesight other than temporary blurriness. Unlike conditions such as pink eye, allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious. However, red, itchy, burning and puffy eyes can be caused also by infections and other conditions that can threaten eyesight.
Do you know those little specks that move around your field of vision sometimes? They’re called eye floaters and, while they’re relatively common, they also shouldn’t be dismissed. A sudden increase in the number of floaters you see could be a sign of a retinal tear or detachment. During a retinal examination (ophthalmoscopy) your doctor may dilate your pupils and use a tool called an ophthalmoscope and to see the back of your eyes, the retina.
Retinal blood vessels, fluid in your eyes, and the head of your optic nerve. You’ll get drops to numb your eyes. Sometimes migraines cause vision symptoms. In these cases, the symptoms are caused by a phenomenon in the brain, not in the retina. Tumors (for example, lymphoma) of the eye and vitritis (inflammation of the vitreous humor) are rare causes of floaters.
If you notice that your eyes are puffy and red, don’t assume you have an infection. It might just be a sign that you’re tired. “In addition to twitching, lack of sleep can make the eyes more irritated and red. A common side effect associated with a lack of sleep is eye spasms. For example, a shortage of sleep can cause dry eye.
When tears do not adequately lubricate your eyes, dry eye can set in and you may experience some pain, light sensitivity, itching, redness, or even blurred vision. Over time, lack of sleep can lead to serious ramifications on your vision including popped blood vessels due to eye strain. Additionally, a shortage of sleep can cause dry eye, a condition when tears do not adequately lubricate your eyes.
Exposure to sunlight in moderation is healthy. However, the longer your eyes are exposed to UV light, and the greater the intensity of the light, the higher risk you have of developing a serious eye condition. Too much light causes eye deterioration or abnormal growths, which can lead to partial or complete blindness Some people develop a yellowish patch or bump on the whites to the side of their iris, called a pinguecula.
A small percentage of these are pre-cancerous, but usually, they are not. What causes them? They are most often seen in people who spend a lot of time in the sun and are similar to a callus on the skin. In a December 2013 study which looked at ultraviolet light’s effects on the eye and found that wearing specific lenses may protect your peepers from sun damage, so talk to your ophthalmologist if you start seeing the patches.
If the whites of your eyes are yellowing like old paper, it should come as no surprise that this is definitely a warning sign something is wrong in your body. The biggest contenders for culprit? Jaundice, a condition that occurs when there’s too much bilirubin, a yellow compound formed from the breakdown of red blood cells, in your blood. If your liver can’t filter the cells, bilirubin builds up and can cause your eyes and skin to turn yellow.
It’s pretty rare in adults (sometimes babies are born with jaundice), but much of the time it’s due to an infection like hepatitis, alcohol-related liver disease, or something blocking your bile ducts like gallstones or cancer. People all over the world have their own herbal remedies for treating yellow eyes. Common herbal remedies often include ingredients such as lemons, carrots, or chamomile. Some believe these ingredients boost gallbladder, liver, and pancreas function, which would improve jaundice.
As much as you might love being online, too much screen time could be causing your eyes to strain and tear up. Although it sounds ironic for tearing to be a symptom of dry eye, it’s the eye’s response as it tries to make up for being too dry. This is very common among people who spend much of their day looking at a computer screen or television screen. Computer vision syndrome, more popularly known as digital eye strain, is one of the conditions often linked with excessive gadget use. Your eyes may feel sore, heavy and tired.
This may also be accompanied by headaches, nausea and dry eyes. Another potential effect of too much screen time is myopia. It can lead to eye dryness, irritation, fatigue, blurry vision, headaches, and eyestrain. Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Look away from the screen every 20 minutes or so and look at something around 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. Blink often to keep your eyes moist. If they feel dry, try some eye drops.
Broken blood vessels may look alarming, but for the most part, they’re simply an indication that your eyes are working overtime. It most likely is caused by coughing or straining. Even though it looks blood-red and terrible, it is harmless and not indicative of any eye disease.
Broken blood vessels occur when a tiny blood vessel bursts under the clear surface of your eye (also known as the conjunctiva). Think of it as a painless bruise on your eye. In spite of its gruesome appearance, a subconjunctival hemorrhage should not cause any pain, discharge, or change in your vision. While harmless, broken blood vessels can become a nuisance if they make you self-conscious. The good news is that spider veins are typically treatable. You first need to figure out the underlying cause.
There are multiple different classes of anti-anxiety medication which may affect vision and eye health. One of the most commonly prescribed classes of antidepressants are the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Side effects of this medication include dry eyes and changes in our near focusing system, affecting our clarity and/or comfort with reading, computer work and focus changes at different distances. Longterm, it has been suggested that there can be changes affecting the blood flow to the nerve that connects the eye to the brain.
Studies indicate a greater risk of glaucoma (a condition affecting your side vision) with SSRI medications, particularly in individuals on stronger medication doses or longer duration. One of the most common eye-related side effects of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications is blurred vision. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft, Prozac, Lexapro, etc. directly affect the pupil and ciliary muscle function of the eye and can make it difficult to focus on near objects.
Medications can have a variety of effects on your eyes, ranging from minor, temporary issues such as blurred vision to permanent damage. High or low blood pressure can affect eye health. When taking blood pressure medications, there are some that have been linked with glaucoma (particularly diuretics and calcium channel blockers). Our optometrist check for glaucoma through the use of our OCT (ocular coherence tomography) eye scans, measurement of your eye pressure and more.
Amiodarone (heart medications) this medication often prescribed for an irregular heartbeat can cause multiple eye changes including a whorl-like pattern on the cornea (clear dome at the front of the eye) and it has also been linked with risk of lack of blood flow to the optic nerve. Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) this medication is often prescribed for rheumatic disease and was long term prescribed as an antimalaria medication. Research shows that even in low doses it can be toxic to the retina (the thin, sensory layer at the back of the eye). It is important that anyone on this medication has their eye health checked regularly to assess for any changes, particularly at the macula which is used for central vision.
Some men who take ED pills develop visual disturbances, typically in the form of blurred vision, impaired color vision, or a bluish haze. Doctors believe these problems occur because the pills that target PDE-5 also inhibit PDE-6, a related enzyme found in the retina at the rear of the eye.
Sildenafil citrate (Viagra) is a medication that causes a change in blood flow away from the heart. Potential side effects include lack of blood flow to the eye, changes in eye pressure and risk of glaucoma (affecting side vision) and risk of “blue vision” as the medications affect the neurotransmission with the retina, the sensory layer at the back of the eye. A dilated eye examination with OCT scans and retinal photography is important in assessing for these medication-related changes to the retina.
Herbal supplements are quite common, and side effects vary depending on the supplement. Gingko Biloba, Fish oil, and flaxseed oil are natural blood thinners, and thus may interact with other conditions and cause longer bleeding times to the eyes and body. Canthaxanthin is an oral supplement that acts as a tanning agent and causes crystals to deposit in the retina which can affect vision. are all associated with clinically significant ocular side effects.
Also, vitamin deficiencies can cause vision issues as well. In extreme cases, vitamin B12 deficiency can damage the optic nerve. This is because it plays a key role in the health of nerves, along with the nervous system as a whole. Optic nerve damage may lead to blurry vision, double vision, or sensitivity to light. In serious instances, it can even cause vision loss.
Did you know that poor diet can lead to vision loss? Consider this, a 14-year-old boy goes to the doctor with complaints of tiredness. He’s an extremely picky eater. His daily diet consists of French fries, potato chips, white bread, and some processed pork. Overall, he appears OK. He’s not overweight and takes no medications. Then tests showed that he had anemia and low levels of vitamin B12, so he was given B12 injections and diet advice.
One year later, he has begun to lose his vision. Then, by age 17, he’s legally blind. Turns out, the boy’s highly limited daily diet, lacking in any healthy foods, vitamins and minerals -had led to optic neuropathy. That’s the conclusion of researchers from the University of Bristol in England, who have published a case study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Iridology is the scientific analysis of the iris, which is the colored part of the eye. The study of an iris reveals health problems and constitution, and this is done by examination of the color, markings, and spots on the iris. Each body organ and gland is located on either the left or right iris, organs on the left side of the body show in the left iris and on the right side the right iris, anything in the center shows up on both irises.
How Does Iridology Work? Iridology was discovered in the 1800s by a physician called Ignatz Von Peczely. He later went on to map out the first chart of Iridology. The iris is a complicated part of our anatomy it is composed of hundreds of thousands of nerve endings that are connected by impulses to every tissue in the body through the brain and nervous system.
These nerve fibers respond to specific ailments in our body by changing color or developing lesions. The iris is studied by superimposing an iris chart over an enlarged image of an iris. Iridology is not a restorative therapy. It doesn’t cure and it doesn’t pinpoint particular ailments. Iridology identifies weaknesses or overactivity in the body so that future problems can be avoided.
As cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) It’s important to take care of your eyes. Poor vision makes it harder to read, drive, and cook. An eye care professional will examine your eyes for signs of vision problems or eye diseases. It’s the best way to find out if you need glasses or contacts, or are in the early stages of a serious but treatable eye disease.
There are nine ways you can help protect your vision: 1. Get a dilated eye exam 2. Know your family’s eye health history 3. Eat right to protect your sight, in particular, eat plenty of dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or collard greens, and fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids 4. Maintain a healthy weight 5. Wear protective eyewear when playing sports or doing activities around the home 6. Quit smoking 7. Wear sunglasses that block 99 percent100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation. 8. Clean your hands and your contact lenses properly to avoid the risk of infection. 9. Practice workplace eye safety.