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An Eye Exam Could Reveal These Unexpected Health Conditions

That Visit to the Optometrist Could Reveal More Than Just Information Related to Your Eyes


Your health should be one of your top priorities, especially during these times. When was the last time you had an eye exam? If it's been a year or longer, you might want to think about booking that appointment.

A full eye exam should be part of your regular wellness routine—like getting a physical check-up or going to the dentist—because that visit to the optometrist could reveal more than just information related to your eyes. It's possible that you could be walking out of your eye doctor's office with a prescription for new glasses and a diagnosis for a potentially serious issue. In fact, we've compiled a list of nine conditions your optometrist might detect during your eye exam.

9 Health Conditions an Eye Exam Could Reveal

1. Diabetes


A 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 34.2 million Americans—just over one in 10—have diabetes. On top of that, 88 million American adults—approximately one in three—have pre-diabetes, which means their blood sugar level is higher than it should be. And not everyone with diabetes is even aware they have it.

According to the CDC, nearly one-third of adults living with diabetes also have a condition called diabetic retinopathy, which could cause damage to the blood vessels in their retinas. It could be best diagnosed with a comprehensive dilated eye exam. If your optometrist sees signs of diabetic retinopathy during your exam, they will direct you to your primary care doctor.

2. High Blood Pressure

The American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that 103 million American adults have high blood pressure. This is nearly half of the U.S. adult population.

"With the aging of the population and increased life expectancy, the prevalence of high blood pressure is expected to continue to increase," said epidemiologist Dr. Paul Muntner, co-chair of the group that wrote the AHA's Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2018 Update, in which these concerning statistics were revealed.

By viewing the blood vessels in the retinas of your eyes, your optometrist is able to look for early signs of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. This is critical because if left untreated, high blood pressure could lead to stroke, heart attack, and possibly death. It is also often associated with glaucoma, an eye condition that causes damage to the optic nerve, eventually leading to loss of vision.

3. High Cholesterol


Yes, that's right, in addition to high blood pressure, your regular eye exam might also detect high cholesterol. Your eye doctor might look for signs like either a blue or yellow ring located around your cornea or deposits left behind in the retina's blood vessels.

4. Cancer

There are many different types of cancer, and an eye exam won't be able to diagnose most of them. But in certain cases, your optometrist could be critical in the detection process. For example, retinal bleeding in the eye could be a sign of developing leukemia. This is exactly what happened for one teenager in Mississippi when a routine eye exam for new contact lenses led to a leukemia diagnosis.

Other cancers, like brain tumors, could also be detected during a regular eye exam by identifying symptoms such as swelling of the optic disc, pressure on the optic nerve, or unusual pupil dilatation. An eye exam is also a critical step for diagnosing ocular melanoma (eye cancer), which might cause enlarged blood vessels around the eye.

5. Multiple Sclerosis


Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory and degenerative neurological disease that affected around 400,000 Americans as of 2016. Those suffering from MS might experience inflammation in their optic nerves, causing symptoms like blurriness and double vision. It could even make it very difficult for them to do something as simple as move their eyes around. These early signs of inflammation in the optic nerve might make your optometrist the first to detect signs of MS.

6. Thyroid Disease

According to the American Thyroid Association, approximately 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, and up to 60 percent of them are unaware of their condition. Additionally, women seem "five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems." In fact, "one in eight women could develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime."

Your eye doctor might be able to detect small signs indicative of thyroid problems during your next exam. For example, those with hyperthyroidism may often have protruding eyeballs, retracting eyelids, and other small signs that suggest a thyroid-related condition.

7. Lupus


Although it's rare, visual symptoms could be an indicator of lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack healthy tissue. This was the case in 2018 when a 23-year-old patient's perfect 20/20 vision deteriorated painlessly over the course of 10 days without any other symptoms. An eye exam found that the young patient had lupus. Other individuals living with lupus report chronic dry eye as a symptom.

8. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Current estimates indicate that 1.3 million Americans have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and that women seemed about two to three times more likely to get RA than men. Similar to lupus, RA causes your body to attack healthy tissues, leading to a large amount of inflammation in your joints and other areas of the body. Because of this inflammation, people living with RA may feel pain and discomfort in their eyes. During an eye exam, your optometrist might look for signs of RA, such as how red your eyes are or if the whites are inflamed.

9. Lyme Disease


Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness that causes a slew of symptoms, including fever, headache, and swollen lymph nodes, as well as the rash that accompanies the tick bite. Additionally, individuals with Lyme disease often experience inflammation in their optic nerves and tend to see "floaters," or spots in their line of vision when they first get the disease.

Many people could live for years without realizing or properly diagnosing Lyme disease. Left untreated, it could cause chronic joint inflammation (Lyme arthritis), particularly of the knee; neurological symptoms, such as facial palsy and neuropathy; cognitive defects, such as impaired memory; heart rhythm irregularities; and other long-term impacts.

Worried about all the conditions hiding in your eyes? Whether or not you have underlying vision issues, it might be a good idea to make an appointment to see your eye doctor for an annual eye exam. If you don't have vision insurance, VSP Individual Vision Plans could help.

One in four Americans trusts VSP for their vision insurance needs. With the largest network of independent doctors, competitive annual benefits, comprehensive frame allowances, and discounts on a wide variety of enhancements, including laser eye surgery, it's clear why so many people have great things to say about VSP Individual Vision Plans.

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This article was reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Wademan, O.D. Dr. Wademan is the owner of Bidwell Optometry in Folsom, California, and shares regular information about eye health and wellness at www.drjenniferwademan.com.

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