Your Eyes Give Doctors
Clues about Your Health
Your eyes are the window to your soul, or so says an old English proverb.
That’s an interesting idea, but one thing’s for sure: Your eyes DO provide a window into your health, acting as a kind of early warning system for many diseases that affect other parts of the body.
Did you know that high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, and diabetes are all examples of conditions that can be discovered by an ophthalmologist during a regular eye exam? Even stroke or dementia risk can be revealed by a thorough eye exam.
An Inside Look
No Other Doctor Gets
When your eye doctor checks your eyes for overall health, he doesn’t just see the retina and optical nerve. Your eyes are transparent, so he also gets a direct look at your blood vessels and nerves. It’s a perspective that just isn’t possible in other parts of the body.
And because of that, your eye doctor can actually make discoveries about your health sooner than other doctors would be able to. For example:
An eye doctor can see tiny blood clots forming in the blood vessels behind the eye. These may be a signal that you’re at a high risk for stroke and other vascular problems.
If your doctor notices that your blood vessels have gotten thicker, that can be an early sign that your blood pressure is starting to climb – a harbinger of many difficult health conditions.
Changes in the eye can signal an autoimmune disorder before other symptoms manifest.
Inflammation of the optic nerve may predict multiple sclerosis.
Brain tumors, dementia, infections, diabetes – often the eye shows the first signs of these diseases.
With so many diseases, early diagnosis and treatment make a big difference in the outcome. So, if your eye doctor picks up on the signs before anyone else, that’s good… it puts you in the best position to fight the disease and maintain your health.
When to Visit the Eye Doctor
Even though an eye doctor is capable of making an early diagnosis for many diseases – or at least letting you know about the warning signs she sees so you can have further tests done with your family doctor – that’s not usually what happens.
The reason is that not many people get their eyes checked regularly. Even people who need prescription eyewear often see an optometrist rather than an ophthalmologist. Optometrists can provide a valuable service, but going to one for an eye health exam is a lot like going to a shoe salesman when you need a foot doctor.
If you haven’t had a comprehensive eye exam in many years, now is the time to schedule one.
You should also schedule an eye exam if you experience any changes to your vision like double vision, eye pain, flashes of light, halos around light sources, redness in the eye, or drainage of the eye.
Between the ages of 40 and 55, doctors recommend an eye exam every four years at a minimum. Between 55 and 65, they suggest you get a comprehensive check up every two years, and then every year after that.
The exception is if you’re at high risk for a particular kind of eye disease. If you have a family history of glaucoma, if you have diabetes, or if you’re showing signs of macular degeneration, then you should have your eyes examined every year.
A Lifetime of Good Vision
Besides providing an early warning system for your overall health, your eyes are also one of your lifelines. You rely on them more than any of your other senses.
So, it just makes sense to take good care of them.
Having healthy eyes is a lot like having a healthy weight, a healthy heart, or a healthy digestive system… your lifestyle choices matter.
To protect your eye health:
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Vitamins and minerals found in dark-green vegetables and in orange-colored fruits and vegetables are particularly good for your eyes.
Eat omega-3-rich fish like salmon, tuna, and halibut once or twice a week. The omega-3s are good for your eyes.
Work to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts a strain on your eyes and can increase your risk of diseases like glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
Quit smoking. Smoking damages the optic nerve, contributes to the formation of cataracts, and increases your risk of macular degeneration.
Rest your eyes regularly, especially if you spend a lot of time staring at a computer screen. Every 10 to 20 minutes, take a break and focus on something far away for 20 seconds or so.
Protect your eyes. Wear sunglasses outdoors and safety glasses whenever you’re doing activities like woodworking or playing contact sports. Even everyday activities like gardening and cooking can result in eye injury, so having safety glasses of some type handy at all times is a good idea.
In addition to making smart decisions that will protect your eye health, you can go the extra mile by taking a few supplements that will support your eyes. This is especially important if you’re at increased risk of eye diseases like glaucoma.
Look for a multi-vitamin that is rich in antioxidants like vitamins C and E and that also contains lutein and zeaxanthin – two nutrients associated with better eye health. Alpha lipoic acid, beta-carotene, and zinc are also good for strong, healthy eyes.
In addition to a multi-vitamin that delivers all these nutrients, consider taking a cod liver oil supplement that will boost your omega-3 fatty acid intake. In animal studies, omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil or cod liver oil had a preventative effect on the development of disease in healthy eyes and a therapeutic effect on eyes that were already diseased.
Your eyes are worth protecting, and taking good care of them can also help to protect your overall health.
If you do one thing for your health today, schedule an eye exam. That exam will help you ensure that your vision is healthy, and it may give you insight into potential health problems before they turn into big health problems.