As William Shakespeare once wrote, the eyes are the windows to the soul. But they’re also windows into your body’s overall health, and regular eye exams can help protect your body’s overall health — and even your life. This is because the eyes are where you can detect the earliest signs of serious medical conditions affecting your body.
August is National Eye Exam Month, the aim of which is to raise awareness about the importance of regular eye exams to maintain healthy eyes and clear vision at all stages of a person’s life. “Eye exams are important for everyone from birth to old age,” said Peter Muller, director of Blue Shield of California Specialty Benefits. Mueller advises that any health plan — whether it’s individual, family, commercial, Medicare or Medi-Cal — carefully reviews whether the options offered include vision coverage.
“People are three times more likely to get their eyes checked, so their first clue that they have a serious health condition is likely to come at the eye doctor’s office. If they receive such a diagnosis, it is important that they follow it up by visiting their primary care physician and specialist for specific tests,” he said.
“Most people know it’s important for their children and themselves to get regular eye exams, but they’re shocked to learn about the dozens of serious medical conditions that eye exams can reveal,” Mueller said. These include serious health problems such as diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. Here are some examples of health conditions that may warrant a visit to an optometrist or ophthalmologist:
- diabetes: Diabetes affects the blood vessels and the back of the eye, and an eye exam reflects the presence of the disease in the body before the patient has diabetes symptoms.
- cancer: Blood, tissue, or skin cancers such as melanoma, leukemia, and brain tumors can be detected with a comprehensive eye exam:
- Melanoma – Eye doctors look at the pupil at the back of the eye; If dark spots appear, it can be a sign of early development of melanoma.
- Leukemia – If the inside of the eye is affected, retinal bleeding may indicate leukemia.
- Brain Tumor – Blurred vision and unresponsive pupils may be early symptoms of a brain tumor.
- High blood pressure: By examining a person’s retina and evaluating the blood vessels, an ophthalmologist can determine if high blood pressure has caused any damage to the back of the eye. These changes can occur without symptoms.
- Heart disease: It is one of several cardiovascular conditions, including blocked arteries, that can be detected by an eye exam. Ophthalmologists may see evidence of plaque deposits in the eye separated from the buildup in the carotid artery, which can cause a stroke if they reach the brain. Or, they may have signs of reduced blood flow to the retina, known as ischemia, which is caused by heart disease.
Importance of eye examination through life
“Eye exams should begin in infants and toddlers to ensure their eyes are developing normally, and should continue throughout the child’s school years to ensure they thrive in academic environments and enjoy learning. School requires intensive visual interaction with reading, writing, chalk boards, and computers, so it’s important for a child’s vision to be perfect,” Mueller said. He explains, “As people age, adults should have annual exams to detect changing vision needs and adjust prescriptions; seniors should be extra careful with eye care so that conditions like macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts can be caught early and treated.”
“Vision insurance can make a real difference to people’s quality of life. “It gives them access to a wide network of high-quality and convenient optometrists and ophthalmologists, as well as the coverage they need for regular exams that can protect their eyes and overall health throughout their lives,” said Muller.