The old saying goes that the eyes are the windows to 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.
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“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:
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.
“High blood pressure can cause permanent damage to vision by affecting the circulation within the eye,” says Dr. Gans. Such damage can be the first clue that a patient is suffering from hypertension.
3. Inflammatory conditions
These include inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and lupus. “There’s a well-known connection between inflammatory diseases and inflammation in the eye,” says Dr. Gans.
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.
4. Metastatic cancer
“Cancers by themselves rarely have manifestations in the eye,” Dr. Gans says. “However, there are certain cancers that can spread to the eyes,” he adds.
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.
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