Thursday, 25 February 2010 00:00
It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. But our eyes can also tell us much about our overall health. During an eye exam, doctors find clues to what’s going on in our eyes – and in the rest of the body.
“Some eye diseases such as glaucoma have no symptoms, so it’s important that everyone have a baseline eye exam starting at age 40. People at risk for eye disease or with vision issues should of course start earlier and have more frequent exams,” said Marc Werner, MD, an ophthalmologist at Stahl Eye Center, which has offices in Garden City, Hauppauge and Manhattan.
It’s not uncommon for patients to first learn they have another health problem, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or a thyroid condition, in the ophthalmologist’s office during a routine eye exam, according to Dr. Werner. “We see this often. The eye is the only place in the body where we can non-invasively see blood vessels. Since many illnesses like diabetes and hypertension affect the blood vessels, we can pick up disease before patients are aware of it, and advise them to see their internist or family doctor,” Dr. Werner said.
Almost 21 million Americans have diabetes, and close to 30 percent of them don’t know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control. “There is a diabetes epidemic in the United States, with six million people unaware they have the disease. The earlier it is diagnosed, the better it can be managed,” said Ben Chang, MD, a retina specialist at Stahl Eye Center. “It is critical to treat diabetes as early as possible to prevent vision loss and other serious health problems.”
Even if a patient already knows he has diabetes, an ophthalmologist can see if the disease is being well-managed based on changes in the blood vessels of the retina. “Leaking blood vessels can distort vision, and we can infer that the same leakage is occurring in the kidney and heart. We can thus alert the internist to be more aggressive in the patient’s treatment,” Dr. Werner said.
The doctors at Stahl Eye Center have compiled a list of symptoms people should not ignore. A visit to an ophthalmologist is in order if people experience any of the following:
• Yellow eyes. A yellowing of the white part of the eye is serious cause for concern. It can be a symptom of hepatitis, a dangerous liver disease.
• Bulging eyes. Some people have naturally prominent eyes. But if someone’s eyes suddenly appear to be bulging, it is often a sign of a thyroid problem. Bulging eyes can also be a manifestation of other diseases, such as a tumor behind the eye or cancer that has spread.
• Red or bloodshot eyes. Red eyes don’t always mean you didn’t get enough sleep. They can be a sign of an over-active thyroid, allergy or an eye infection.
• A sty or other growth on or near the eyelid. Any growth on or near the eyelid should be checked by a doctor, even if there are no symptoms. Certain eyelid or skin cancers can look like a sty or pimple.
• Dry eyes. This condition often affects people when they get older or experience hormonal changes. Dry eyes are common, and eye drops and other treatments can often relieve the discomfort. But dry eyes can also signal an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, which affects the ability to produce tears.
• Watery or tearing eyes. This can be a sign of corneal disease, a blocked tear duct, or an eyelash or lid problem. Anyone who has pain along with the tearing should be examined right away as this could be a sign of infection, inflammation or a foreign object in the eye.
• Double vision. When double vision occurs in both eyes, it could be related to thyroid disease, a brain problem, a tumor or another disease. People should waste no time in seeing an eye care professional if they experience this.
• Seeing halos around lights. If people experience pain and vision loss along with the appearance of halos, they should see an eye doctor. Halos may indicate cataracts, glaucoma, corneal disease or contact lens overuse.
• Dots and spots. Called floaters, people may see tiny objects that look like small dots, pieces of string or amoeba-like objects. In children, they are actually small protein particles remaining from the formation of the eye. In middle-aged and older adults, they can develop with normal aging. However, if they appear suddenly as hundreds of small black particles, it can be a sign of a retinal tear or a retina detachment. There is serious cause for concern when floaters occur with flashes of light.
Anyone who would like more information about eye conditions and treatment can visit: www.stahleyecenter.com.