Your Eyes: A Window to Your Health

By: Christy Benson, MD

While it may be cliché, there is some truth to the old adage, “The eyes are the window to the soul.”

Perhaps insinuating that a doctor can see into a patient’s soul by an eye exam is an overstatement, but a dilated eye exam can provide physicians with a lot of information about a person’s general health. A careful inspection of the retina, blood vessels, and optic nerve may reveal the first sign of diabetes, hypertension, cancer, autoimmune diseases, vitamin deficiencies, and even systemic infections. 

Another reason to have regular dilated eye exams is that many ophthalmic conditions are asymptomatic in the early stages, including diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. These conditions have better visual outcomes if detected early. Glaucoma, for example, does not have any symptoms in the early course of the disease. Glaucoma is likened to “a thief in the night” because patients may lose up to 90% of their nerve fibers before they notice symptoms. If diagnosis is delayed until symptoms occur, vision loss is usually profound and irreversible. It is estimated that up to 3 million Americans have glaucoma, and up to 50% of those people are unaware of their diagnosis. The optic nerve is an extension of the brain, and just as brain tissue is unable to regenerate, damage to delicate nerve fibers in the optic nerve cannot be reversed even if medical or surgical treatment is successful in lowering intraocular pressures. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that the frequency of eye examinations be based on both the presence of visual symptoms and the probability that ocular disease will occur. People who are at high risk of developing ocular abnormalities, such as individuals with diabetes, hypertension, or autoimmune disease, should be seen annually.  Children require annual vision checks, either at school vision screenings or primary care well-child visits and should be referred for a complete ocular examination if any abnormality is detected.  For asymptomatic adults without risk factors, the AAO recommends a dilated eye exam every two to four years; however, those with a family history of eye disease are at a greater risk and should be seen more frequently.  Adults greater than 65 years of age require an examination every one to two years due to the higher prevalence of ocular disease in this age group. Certainly individuals who already have a diagnosis of an ocular disease may require more frequent examinations based on the severity of the condition.

Broadlawns Optometry and Ophthalmology team provides comprehensive eye exams for both adults and children and specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide array of eye diseases and conditions. We utilize state-of-the-art diagnostic technology and vision correction products to improve your quality of life through enhanced vision. With an onsite Family Optical Shop, Broadlawns makes eyeglasses and contact lenses both accessible and affordable.

To schedule an appointment, call the Broadlawns Main Campus Eye Clinic at (515) 282-2362 or the Broadlawns East University Eye Clinic at (515) 282-3278.