What your eyes can reveal about your overall health
It’s said that the eyes are the windows to the soul, but they can also be the windows to more serious health problems, if you know what to look for.
“Many medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, can be diagnosed with an eye exam,” says Sandy T. Feldman MD, Medical Director of Clearview Eye & Laser Medical Center in San Diego. “But simply looking into a mirror and staying aware of any changes to your eyes is just as important as annual doctor visits.”
Dr. Feldman offers 9 key eye symptoms to be on the lookout for:
Redness: Your eyes may be red from rubbing or fatigue. Or you might have allergies or pink eye (conjunctivitis), which is caused by inflammation and is highly contagious. It could also be a subconjunctival hemorrhage, a bruise under the surface of the eye that usually clears up within a few weeks.
Bug Eyes: Eyes that bulge outward are a sign of Grave’s disease, an autoimmune condition of the thyroid gland. This condition can lead to weight loss, anxiety and a rapid pulse.
White Dots: If you wear contact lenses, white spots on your cornea (the clear, dome-shaped layer on the front of your eyeball) might indicate an infection. There may be other causes of a corneal infection, but if you see white spots or have other symptoms – such as pain, swelling or changes in your vision – be sure to go see a doctor.
Red Dots: If the dots you see in your eyes are red, you might have diabetes, which affects about 40 percent of Americans at some point in their lifetime. If blood sugar levels get too high, blood vessels begin to get blocked and swell up. This can burst the tiny blood vessels in the retina and cause bleeding. Without treatment, diabetes can eventually cause vision loss or even blindness.
Yellowish Cornea: If the cornea of your eye has a yellowish appearance or has a yellow ring around it, check with your doctor – you might need to lower your cholesterol.
Dry Eyes: Dry eyes can be due to environmental factors – such as spending too much time on the computer – but the condition can also indicate other health issues. Inflammation plays a key role in severely dry eyes, which can be linked to autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s Syndrome, rosacea and lupus.
Blurred Vision: Most people experience blurry eyes from time to time, but chronic eye problems can point to cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. High alcohol consumption has been identified as a risk factor for both these conditions, as drinking can deplete the body of essential Vitamin B-1, causing a weakness or paralysis of the eye muscles. Too much alcohol can also deplete Vitamin A, which can cause night blindness and thinning of the cornea.
Dark Blotches: If you notice dark blotches on your eye, particularly in the iris, go see a doctor or eye specialist soon. It could be ocular melanoma, a type of cancer that can develop in the cells that make pigmentation in the eye. Skin cancer can show up as basal cell carcinoma on the eyelid.
Uneven Pupils: Having pupils of different sizes can be perfectly harmless; about 1 in 5 healthy people has slightly different pupil sizes, and eye drops and other medicines can sometimes throw pupil size out of whack temporarily. But if one pupil is more than 1-mm larger than the other – and it doesn’t occur until later in life and doesn’t resolve on its own – then you might want to get it checked out by a doctor.
“There are a number of health conditions that a doctor can diagnose with an eye exam, but aren’t readily apparent to the naked eye,” says Dr. Feldman. “High blood pressure, for example, is a major health problem that often doesn’t present any symptoms until there’s a health episode. That’s why I encourage all my patients to come in for an annual exam.
“It’s just as important, however, to be aware of what’s normal for your eyes and your body and what isn’t. That can make all the difference when it comes to early diagnosis for potentially serious health issues.”