It has often been said that the eyes are the window to the soul. But did you know that they are also portals through which you can get a pretty good glimpse of potential health problems? The eyes are the only part of the human body where doctors can see veins and arteries without having to do surgery. Because of this, an eye doctor can sometimes detect systemic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol long before there are any other obvious symptoms present. But these aren’t the only disease that can be detected through regular eye exams.
An autoimmune disease is a condition that causes the body to attack its own healthy cells – rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, for example. If the inside ocular surface of the blood vessels of the eye are swollen red, itchy, and watery for no apparent reason, then there may be cause to suspect an undiagnosed autoimmune disease. However, this can be caused by allergies as well.
This disease is characterized by plaques that form in the arteries. Small bits of fatty cholesterol material, usually from the carotid arteries, break loose and travel through the blood stream to the eye area where they become lodged. These small blockages in the eyes are called Hollenhorst plaques and they might be the initial evidence that other arteries are beginning to become clogged.
Now doctors can accurately detect Alzheimer’s disease with a simple eye exam. It seems that the same amyloid protein found in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s can also be also found in the fluid of the eyes. This is important because early detection of Alzheimer’s is critical to slowing the progression of the disease.
Ophthalmologist use a process called optical coherence tomography (OCT) to detect glaucoma. But researchers have discovered that this same scan can be used to detect and monitor multiple sclerosis. With OCT, doctors can determine the health of nerve tissue usually in advance of other symptoms.
There is a long list of diseases that have ocular manifestations and they can often be detected very early with the right eye exams. This list not only includes the aforementioned diseases, but others such as HIV, brain tumors, and brain aneurysms, as well. The thing to remember is that general practitioners don’t usually check the eyes thoroughly unless the patient is coming to the doctor with an eye complaint. This is why you should not neglect your yearly visit to the ophthalmologist.