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NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson Gailey Eye Clinic optometrist Dr. Gaurav Singh (pictured) and Dr. Shawn Koehler shared several things they look for about your health that have nothing to do with vision. Optometrists are trained to spot various medical maladies or their symptoms which can present themselves in the human eye.
Did you know that when you go for your regular eye exam that proper vision is only a portion of what your optometrist is looking for inside your eyes?
We didn’t either until Dr. Gaurav Singh and Dr. Shawn Koehler, optometrists at Gailey Eye Clinic in Peru, teamed up to explain just eight of many maladies a well-trained optometrist can spot during an eye exam.
“The eyes are a window to the rest of the body,” Singh said. “From the front to the back, the eyes shed light on the systemic conditions that people may have. In some cases, they provide validation of an existing treatment while in others they provide an opportunity for a new diagnosis alltogether.”
1. Diabetes: Diabetes can produce many different changes to the eye. In the early stages, patients can present with a large change in their glasses prescription. Cataracts (cloudiness to the natural lens in the eye) occur at a younger age in diabetic patients. In later stages, patients can develop diabetic retinopathy which occurs when the retinal blood vessel walls become leaky allowing blood and other substances to leak into the layers of the retina. This condition is one of the more common causes of legal blindness in the United States.
2. Cancer: A routine eye exam can see changes in the structure of the eyes and unusual growths, including a rare form of cancer called Ocular Melanoma which develops within the cells that make pigmentation in the eye. Skin cancer also can be detected through an eye exam, as lesions called basal cell carcinomas can show up on the eyelid and can possibly spread to the brain through the eye.
3. Hypertension (high blood pressure): High blood pressure can cause hypertensive retinopathy which affects the blood supply to the back of the eye, specifically, the retina. This typically presents as hemorrhaging and localized areas of restricted blood flow (known as cotton wool spots). Patients typically observe no symptoms, but an eye doctor is trained to identify such spots. Irregular blood flow to the eye is resolved when blood pressure is brought down.
4. Autoimmune disorders: A routine eye exam can detect an inflammation of the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye, which may be a sign of Lupus or other autoimmune disorders.
5. High cholesterol: The cornea is the clear dome of tissue at the front of the eye. Over time, a whitish-grey ring, known as a corneal arcus, can develop around the periphery of the cornea. This ring indicates lipid deposits. The condition is benign and does not threaten vision, but when it is found in patients under the age of 40, a cholesterol and lipid screening is suggested.
6. Thyroid disease (Graves’ disease): Most thyroid findings in the eye are due to an overactive thyroid. Symptoms range from mild dry eyes to more serious ones, including bulging of the eyes (proptosis), double vision and vision loss (caused by pressure on optic nerve). Approximately 80 percent of patients with an overactive thyroid will develop one of these symptoms.
7. Multiple sclerosis: Optic neuritis is inflammation of the optic nerve. Patients often will present with loss of vision, decrease in color vision and pain during eye movement in one eye. In patients under the age of 45, these are the most common presenting symptom of multiple sclerosis. An MRI is needed for confirmation to see if any previous changes have occurred in the brain.
8. Sleep Apnea: Patients with sleep apnea, who often present with symptoms of dry eyes, are found to have floppy eyelid syndrome. Subsequent workup such as a sleep study usually reveals sleep apnea. This systemic condition has a higher incidence of having high blood pressure, which if untreated, can lead to significant morbidity and mortality.