Story last updated at 3/26/2014 - 1:39 pm
People who have been putting off eye examinations may want to call their opthalmologists to schedule an appointment. That's because vision checkups can do more than protect your eyes.
By examining the eyes, doctors may have a window into health problems affecting other areas of the body. Researchers recently discovered a link between detected retinal amyloid plaques and the onset of Alzheimer's disease. While evidence was found in lab mice, autopsies of at least eight Alzheimer's disease patients have also shown amyloid plaques, which are known to interfere with memory and other mental functions, present in the retinas. Doctors at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, Calif., are gearing up for larger studies of humans to determine if an Alzheimer's imaging technique can be perfected.
Dementia is not the only thing that doctors may be able to detect through an eye exam. Jaundice in the whites of the eyes may indicate liver disease, and early warning signs of diabetes may be detectable in the eyes. The American Academy of Opthalmology says the eye is the only place where doctors can see veins, arteries and a nerve without surgery, and eye examinations are increasingly being relied on to gauge overall health. The following are a few additional conditions that may be detected through the eyes.
The following are a few additional conditions that may be detected through the eyes.
Patients may be referred to an allergy specialist if they exhibit dark under-eye circles. While this can be a sign of aging, dark circles, sometimes referred to as "allergic shiners," also may indicate certain allergies. When clogged sinuses cause a blockage of blood flow in the nasal passages around the eye, darkness may result. This symptom in conjunction with persistent nasal congestion could be a sure sign of allergies.
The presence of bumpy, yellowish patches on the eyelid, known as xanthelasma palpebra, is a warning sign of high cholesterol, which is often initially diagnosed during a routine eye exam.
Some cancer metastases can be detected during an eye exam. The presence of a bump or brown spot on the eyelid also may be indicative of skin cancer. Many malignant eyelid tumors are basal-cell carcinoma. If the spot is brown, it's more likely to be malignant melanoma.
When the outer one-third of the brow (the part closest to the ear) begins to disappear on its own, this is a common sign of thyroid disease. The thyroid helps regulate metabolism, and thyroid hormones are essential to hair production. Hair loss may occur elsewhere, but is much more visible in the brows.
Blockages in the smaller veins in the retina may indicate clogs caused by arterial plaque. This will show up as a retinal occlusion in a visual exam. If blood vessels in the eyes are blocked, clogged arteries may be present elsewhere in the body, so a cardiology workup may be ordered.
The inability to close one eye or to control tear production in that eye may be a sign of Bell's palsy. This is a condition of the nervous system that controls facial muscles, causing temporary paralysis in one side of the face. Sometimes Bell's palsy follows a viral or bacterial infection.