The eyes have long been called the “windows to the soul,” and growing evidence suggests they may also be the windows to the brain and body. Several health problems can be detected by eye exams, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Most of us have our eyes tested regularly, but few of us may know that an eye test isn’t just for checking vision and correcting sight problems. Because it has a “window” in the front, the eye is the only part of the body where doctors can noninvasively examine the inside of an organ. At the back of the eye is the retina, where you can clearly see the blood vessels and the optic nerve. Thanks to this, optometrists and ophthalmologists were able to diagnose not only disorders of the eye, but also systemic diseases, those that affect other organs of the body or the whole body. If a routine eye test raises concerns, the optometrist can refer the person to an ophthalmologist who will perform additional eye exams. If his investigations reveal a systemic disease, he can then refer the person to the competent specialist.

A routine eye exam in which the pupils are dilated with eye drops can provide a full and clear view of the optic nerve, which is connected to the brain, the retina, and all the blood vessels that supply the retina . Therefore, the pathology of the eye can be clearly observed during an eye examination, both for localized eye conditions and for systemic diseases, truly making the eye a window to the rest of the body.

What can be diagnosed by looking at the eyes?

Many people with systemic diseases are first diagnosed by their eye doctor, which is just one reason why all adults should have regular eye exams at least every two years. In addition to identifying vision problems, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism, a routine exam can detect other eye disorders, such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. By examining the blood vessels of the retina and optic nerve, the optometrist can also learn a lot about a person’s overall health.

This non-invasive process can detect many other health conditions that may seem unrelated to the eyes, such as hypertension, diabetes, thyroid disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. plates (SEP). Ocular inflammation can affect many parts of the eye and can often be the first sign of systemic disease. The key to diagnosis lies in a focused history, followed by a guided examination of the involved organ systems, including blood tests.

Blood vessel changes

Changes in retinal blood vessels can be early indicators of diabetes and hypertension.

Diabetes, for example, is the most commonly diagnosed disease given the frequency of the disease as well as classic retinal examination findings, which can include bleeding, fluid leaks and areas of poor blood flow. Although a firm diagnosis of diabetes can only be made with a blood sugar test, changes in the blood vessels of the retina can give a strong indication that a person may have diabetes. It can then be directed to further testing.

Signs of diabetic retinopathy can sometimes be detected by an eye exam even before a person suspects they have diabetes. Once diagnosed, provided the diabetes is well controlled, the person can then minimize the risk of further eye damage. In addition to localized eye therapies such as laser treatment or intravitreal eye injections, improving blood sugar levels by adhering to appropriate pharmacological treatment, limiting sugar intake, and making necessary lifestyle changes can result in regression of diabetic retinopathy.

However, for people with diabetes, the most important eye exams take place after diagnosis, to monitor changes in the eyes and take steps to prevent further damage. In most cases, diabetes is diagnosed before changes become evident in the retina, but retinal examination is an essential part of routine diabetic assessments to help manage the disease and Intervene, when indicated, with one of several treatments to reduce the risk of blindness due to diabetic retinopathy.

Classic signs of hypertension

Studies have shown that signs of hypertension, or high blood pressure, are present in the eyes of approximately 10% of the non-diabetic adult population. On examination, the ophthalmologist may see evidence of narrowing of the retinal arterioles, arteriovenous nicks, retinal hemorrhages and, as in diabetic retinopathy, microaneurysms. All of these are indicators of hypertensive retinopathy. Hypertension is also manifested by classic signs in the eye. The earliest signs of hypertension are narrowing of the vessels.

The good news is that if hypertension is controlled, the damage can be stopped. Early detection means that proper precautions are taken and necessary lifestyle changes are made, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, in addition to starting the appropriate medical treatment, thereby reducing the risk of cardiac disease.

What the Optic Nerve Can Reveal

During a routine examination, the ophthalmologist also examines the optic nerve to detect any abnormalities or changes. The optic nerve connects the eye to the brain and is therefore an extension of the central nervous system. It is the only part of the brain that can be clearly visualized by examining the fundus. Swelling or inflammation of the optic nerve can be detrimental to vision and color vision, and can help diagnose MS, which is an autoimmune demyelinating disease of the brain and spinal cord, as well as neuroinflammatory disorders such as neuromyelitis optica or a brain tumor. Vision disturbances in MS, which tend to come on and then go away within weeks, are usually due to optic neuritis, an acute inflammatory demyelinating disorder of the optic nerve.

Optic neuritis is the first symptom in up to 20% of people subsequently diagnosed with MS, although it can indicate other disorders, or even be the result of a viral infection or vitamin deficiency. If an eye doctor suspects optic neuritis during a routine eye exam, they will refer the person for further testing to confirm the diagnosis and identify the cause.

Signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the eyes

Retinal screening for Alzheimer’s disease is an exciting prospect at the forefront of current medical research. The retina is made up of several layers of specialized neural cells and there is strong evidence that the same changes in the brain can occur in the retina, which could help screen patients for early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Current methods for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease are often time-consuming, invasive and expensive, so being able to diagnose the disease from the retina would be a huge step forward. Although it is not yet a disease that can be diagnosed from a routine eye exam, recent research has suggested that doctors may, in the future, diagnose Alzheimer’s disease from from retina scans.

The new technique, tested so far only on mice, combines the results of two scans to assess the condition of the retina. People with Alzheimer’s disease have a much rougher retinal surface than others. Further research has identified beta-amyloid plaques on the retina as an indication of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as in the lens, two phenomena that can be detected by non-invasive methods. These findings could perhaps lead to easier and earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, allowing treatment to begin before symptoms become severe.

Have regular eye exams

In addition to allowing the optometrist to detect diseases elsewhere in the body, changes in the eyes can tell the doctor about the progression of systemic disease. It is therefore important to have regular eye exams, especially as we age. While eye exams are primarily used to check eye health, they can screen for systemic diseases. For adults, if you don’t need glasses or contact lenses, it is still recommended that you have an annual exam at least once in your 20s, twice in your 30s, and more regularly after 40. Indeed, it is after the age of 40 that eye conditions begin to become more common, including presbyopia, glaucoma, cataracts and retinal changes due to diabetes or hypertension.

So make sure that a regular eye exam is part of your overall health care, especially as you get older. It could detect an illness you were unaware of and help you take charge of your health.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.