3 Seemingly Unrelated Health Problems Your Ophthalmologist Can Detect During Your Eye Exam

You likely know that it is important to visit your eye doctor for regular exams to ensure your eyes are healthy and you are still wearing the correct contact lenses or eyeglasses. However, when performing your eye exam, your ophthalmologist can detect many general health problems you wouldn't think would be related to your eyes. It seems your eyes are not only the windows to your soul, but also the window to your health. Here are three health problems that some people find out they have not from their regular physician, but from their eye doctors.

1. Brain Tumors

If a patient reports during routine questioning before the exam that he or she has been experiencing headaches, then the eye doctor will make sure to examine a part in their very back of the eye called the optic disc. This disc is where blood vessels and nerves enter the eye and is also referred to as the optic nerve head.

If the disc is pushed forward toward the front of the eye more than normal, then that signals increased pressure in the head. This pressure can be due to a brain tumor, as the extra space that a tumor takes up in the skull causes pressure to increase. Once an eye doctor sees this change in the disc, they send a patient directly to a hospital for a full examination to determine if there is a tumor and how advanced it is.

While changes in the optic discs are more tell-tale signs of brain tumors, an eye doctor will also become concerned if one of a patient's pupils is slightly larger than the other. While a huge change in pupil size would likely be recognized by a patient or his or her family, the size difference is not always so obvious outside of examination. This can signal a brain tumor, but it could also be a sign of a recent head injury, like a concussion, a brain aneurysm, or several other health problems that need a proper diagnosis.

2. Diabetes

Diabetes often goes undiagnosed in its early stages, especially if a person does not have a family history of the disease and is not showing any obvious symptoms. However, there are tell-tale signs of diabetes in the eyes that ophthalmologists can detect.

When a person has diabetes, they have more glucose in their blood than normal. This sugar can break down the capillaries in the eye. When performing a routine eye exam, the eye doctor will see blood and /or other fluid leaking out of these capillaries, which alerts them that the patient likely has diabetes.

If an eye doctor sees this problem with eye capillaries, then the patient is sent to have their blood glucose tested by their physician, which is the standard test for diabetes. Once diabetes is controlled, the capillaries in the eyes can heal as long as they had not become too damaged.

3. Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a complicated disease that occurs when a person's  immune system begins attacking the tissue that protects the nerves in the body, leading to nerve damage. It is a mysterious disease with no true known cause. Not only can ophthalmologists detect a change in a person's eyes that may signal the disease, but they can also monitor the progression of the disease.

When performing an eye exam, one signal of multiple sclerosis is a damaged optic nerve. This nerve often becomes thinner in multiple sclerosis sufferers. This alerts the ophthalmologist that the patient may be developing the disease and to obtain further examination, typically in the form of an MRI, to detect any other signs of the disease.

Also, while not standard procedure for MS sufferers just yet, many physicians think that monitoring this nerve in patients with the disease is a much easier way to track its progression than current methods. This means that in the future, regular MRIs may be skipped in favor of eye exams to track the disease and whether it is stable or becoming worse in patients.

Next time you feel like skipping your eye exam, realize that your ophthalmologist is not just checking your vision, but he or she is also checking for signs of serious eye problems and can even detect several diseases.

For more information, contact an ophthalmologist like William Byrne.