A comprehensive eye exam checks more than just your vision. It doesn't hurt, and it doesn't take much time, but it can potentially save your life by revealing the early symptoms of many common, life-threatening illnesses.
"It's such a small part of the body, yet it is one of the largest detectors of disease," said Dr. Jordan Kassoff, a board-certified ophthalmologist and eye surgeon specializing in Cornea and Refractive Surgery. Warning signs can be discovered on, in and behind the eye. "You name it -- any disease -- and it has some potential eye findings."
Sometimes, diseases instigate symptoms in the eye before the rest of the body such as lightning bolts, wavy lines or shrinking fields . 'the patients come to see us first (as opposed to a primary care physician) because the eye symptoms freak them out. Studies have shown that if given the choice of death or going blind, people choose death," Kassoff said.
A recent study by the Human Capital Management Services Group showed that eye doctors detected certain chronic diseases before other healthcare providers -- 65 percent of the time for high cholesterol; 30 percent for hypertension; and 20 percent for diabetes. 'the eye and the body relate," says Kassoff. "An eye exam can be preventative care."
Plaque, for example, the main culprit of heart disease, can be detected in the eye during a simple exam because the eyes provide an unobstructed, non-invasive view of blood vessels. If plaque is present in the vessels of the eye, it is also likely to be in other parts of the body doing damage, or about to do damage.
Diabetes can also be detected through an eye exam. Diabetes is a disease that affects the body's ability to produce or use insulin effectively to control blood sugar (glucose) levels. Too much glucose can cause damage to many parts of the body including the small blood vessels in the eyes. When these blood vessels in the retina swell, leak or close off, it is called diabetic retinopathy, says Kassoff. Diabetes is a top risk factor for vision loss among many groups.
An eye exam can also detect multiple sclerosis, some cancers, arthritis, thyroid disease, orbital tumors, AIDS, infections, aneurisms and diabetes. Sleep apnea and allergies have also been uncovered during an eye exam.
Kassoff, among other eye specialists, wish people would make an eye exam a priority, just like a routine yearly medical exam. Non-invasive, no-pain eye tests can truly save lives, he says.
Vision For The Future
Of course, the primary purpose of an eye exam is to check for vision problems, current or future. A routine eye exam can prevent vision loss long before you are aware there is a problem. People often have a false sense of security when they're not experiencing discernable problems. However, someone can have perfect vision but still have early macular degeneration or advanced glaucoma, diabetes or other diseases.
Lee Nelson spent 21 years as an award-winning reporter in Iowa, and now freelance writes for magazines and websites out of her home in Chicagoland.