Even if you boast 20/20, you should pay a visit to an
eye-care specialist. "The eyes are one place in the body through which we
can actually see veins and arteries firsthand, with no surgery or
cameras," says Shantan Reddy, M.D., an ophthalmologist and retinal
specialist at New York University Langone Medical Center. That's why an eye doctor may be the first to detect a serious health problem
such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
One example: 65 percent of the
time, eye doctors can spot signs of a patient's high cholesterol before any
other health-care provider (the condition shows up as yellowish plaques
within the retinal blood vessels).
Behold, surprising health cues your eyes
More than 20 percent of people with high blood pressure
don't know they have it—a problem that could be solved if everyone visited
their eye doctor more often. "We can see hypertension through the eyes
because it gives retinal arteries a silver or copper hue that we call copper
wiring," says Reddy. If left untreated, the condition can cause blood
vessels in the retina and throughout the body to harden, increasing the risk
for heart attack or stroke.
Sunlight can wreak havoc on more than your skin—it may
increase the risk of developing cancer inside the eyeball. "The cancer can
look like little raised surfaces or moles in the pigment layer of the
retina," says ophthalmologist Sophie J. Bakri, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic in
Rochester, Minnesota. Diagnosing an eye melanoma early is crucial, she says; it
often has no other symptoms and can quickly metastasize to surrounding tissues.
High blood sugar can clog or damage retinal blood vessels
over time, rendering them weak and porous. Eye doctors can often spot the
seepage or the new, abnormal blood vessels that sprout up to replace faulty
ones. Indeed, diabetes takes a big toll on the eyes in general and can lead to
blindness in serious cases.
Autoimmune conditions can cause the body to attack healthy
cells and tissues (including those within the eyes), leading to inflammation. The
process can lead to "If we see inflammation inside swollen ocular surface
blood the eye, 30 to 50 percent of vessels and red, itchy, watery the time that
patient will have some sort of undiagnosed autoimmune disease, like lupus or
rheumatoid arthritis," says Bakri. Another related symptom? Severely dry
eyes, the result of compromised tear glands.
It sounds gross, but you can get blisters inside your
eyeballs. The condition, called central serous retinopathy (CSR), is typically
caused by excessive mental or emotional stress, which can tax the body so much
that the retina starts to leak blister-forming fluid. "Eye doctors used to
know CSR as a disease of stressed men with type-A personalities, but an
increasing number of women are being diagnosed," says Bakri. The most
common symptom is that patients may also have blurry vision or see wavy lines
when trying to focus on a set point. In many cases, CSR can be alleviated by
slashing stress levels; but if not, patients may be helped by laser treatment.
Eye Cue: Swollen blood vessels on the white part of eye
Red Flag For: Allergies
Airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, and animal dander
often affect the eyes. As a protective mechanism, your peepers secrete
anti-inflammatory histamines and other natural chemicals—but not without side
effects. The process can lead to swollen ocular surface blood vessels and red,
itchy, watery eyes visible to you, your eye doctor, and everyone else. For a
proper diagnosis, though, do see an M.D.