The importance of regular eye tests can’t be overstated; it allows both you and your optometrist to keep an eye on changes in vision, the shape of your eye and any developing problems in your entire optical system.
Not only this, but your optometrist can also spot many diseases that have nothing to do with vision or the eye.
One of the most common diseases that your optometrist can help to diagnose is diabetes. In the UK, over 3 million people live with the disease, or about six per cent of the population, and in some cases diabetes could be the reason why you visited the optometrist in the first place. Sudden or dramatic changes in your vision or prescription can indicate diabetes as glucose seeps into the lens, changing its shape and making it difficult to focus.
In some cases, your optometrist will see diabetic retinopathy, where the blood vessels in the retina weaken and can haemorrhage. The condition shows in the eye as white, crystal-like patches on the retina or small haemorrhages.
Another clue in your optical system is to high blood pressure, or hypertension to give it its proper name. According to official figures, 25% of people in the UK with the condition aren’t actually aware that they have it, but if left untreated it can cause bigger problems, such as heart attacks or strokes.
All the clues are in the eyes, however, as crossings in the blood vessels of the eyes caused by the hardening of the artery and nipping the vein underneath can be easily seen. Very high blood pressure can actually burst blood vessels and allow haemorrhages to occur, but optometrists will routinely look for signs of high blood pressure in patients over 30.
Although hypertension can lead to strokes, they’re not always linked, but eye-care professionals are also able to see signs of strokes in patients. A stroke occurs when a blockage prevents the travel of blood, often from a clot. Not all strokes are major events, and patients can suffer ‘mini-strokes’ or TIA’s, which can cause symptoms such as sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes as well as the more recognised symptoms of Face-Arms-Speech-Time. If the blood clot occurs on one side of the brain, then the affected eye is normally on the same side. There is some really useful information about this here.
Sometimes changes in vision are a symptom of a particular disease or disorder, whereby the problem isn’t necessarily because of a defect in the eye but is affected due to the progression of the disease. In some cases of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) the first outward sign is intermittent blurring of the vision, or in some cases visual blackouts.
The signs for MS in the eye are specific to the disease; repeated inflammation of the optic nerve is a common diagnostic symptom and doesn’t show up on other diseases.
As well as these conditions, there are all of the usual problems that cause visits to the optometrist, as well as malignant melanoma (cancerous tumours), in which your eyecare professional will be instrumental in terms of an early diagnosis.
Lots of songs have been written about the eyes as the windows of the soul, but they can also be a window into patients’ general health. Keeping your regular appointments and check ups with your optometrist could prove to be key in not only making sure your glasses are fashionable, but you’re in the best of health.
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