Fri | Aug 12, 2022

What your eyes tell about your health

Published:Wednesday | July 6, 2022 | 12:07 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer

Eyes are not just the window to your soul; they also offer a glimpse into your health. Changes in your eyes can signal vision problems, diabetes, stress, even retinal detachment. What is more, most of these you can actually see for yourself, assuming you know what to look for.

Natasha Herz, medical doctor and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, said your eyes reveal your health, and explained how you know when it is time to visit your doctor.

Do you wear contact lenses instead of glasses? Watch out for white spots on your cornea – that clear layer over the front of your eyeball. This is “quite common among people who wear contact lenses,” Dr Herz said, and can be a sign of a corneal infection.

Stress can manifest in many ways, one of which is an eye twitch. It is more annoying than concerning, but it can be a sign you need to get some more rest and manage your stress levels a bit more, Herz said.

Blurred vision usually means you need glasses, but you should have your eyes checked, no matter what. Not only can blurred vision signal a medical problem with the eye itself, like cataracts or macular degeneration, it can also be a sign of a more serious illness, like diabetes.

In fact, an August 2014 study found that 73 per cent of diabetic patients sampled, reported blurred vision. Even without trouble seeing, your ophthalmologist may be able to detect diabetes during an eye examination, based on irregularities in your retina.

If you notice a white ring forming around your corneal arcus – the medical term for your iris – it might be time to visit your ophthalmologist, as well as your general practitioner for a check-up. While this particular colour change is most commonly a sign of ageing, Herz said it can also be an indication of high cholesterol and triglycerides, which might mean an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

In addition to upping your risk for heart disease and strokes, untreated high blood pressure can also damage the blood vessels in your retina, known as hypertensive retinopathy. You cannot see the effects in the mirror, but your doctor will be able to spot the damage during your eye examination, which is even more reason to stick to your annual screenings.

LACK OF SLEEP

If you notice that your eyes are puffy and red, do not assume you have an infection. It might just be a sign that you are tired. “In addition to twitching, lack of sleep can make the eyes red and irritated,” Herz said.

Some people develop a yellowish patch or bump on the whites to the side of their iris, called a pinguecula. “A small percentage of these are precancerous, but usually they are not,” Dr Herz said.

“They are most often seen in people who spend a lot of time in the sun and are similar to a callus on the skin,” she added. But a December 2013 study looked at ultraviolet light’s effects on the eye and found that wearing specific lenses may protect your eyes from sun damage, so talk to your ophthalmologist if you start seeing the patches.

If the whites of your eyes are yellowing like old paper, it should come as no surprise that this is definitely a warning sign that something is wrong in your body. The biggest contenders for culprit is jaundice.

Jaundice, a condition that occurs when there is too much bilirubin, a yellow compound formed from the breakdown of red blood cells in your blood. If your liver cannot filter the cells, bilirubin builds up and can cause your eyes and skin to turn yellow. It is pretty rare in adults (sometimes babies are born with jaundice), but much of the time it is due to an infection, like hepatitis, alcohol-related liver disease, or something blocking your bile ducts, like gallstones or cancer.

As much as we love Netflix, too much screen time could be causing your eyes to strain and tear up. “Although it sounds ironic for tearing to be a symptom of dry eye, it is the eye’s response as it tries to make up for being too dry. This is very common among people who spend much of their day looking at a computer screen or television screen,” Dr Herz said.

Broken blood vessels may look alarming, but for the most part they are simply an indication that your eyes are working overtime. “It most likely is caused by coughing or straining. Even though it looks blood-red and terrible, it is harmless and not indicative of any eye disease,” Dr Herz said.

As technology evolves, the eyes will prove more and more useful as a means of diagnosing all kinds of diseases and conditions because, by being transparent, the eye requires far less invasive methods of examination than other body parts.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.com

SOURCE: Good HouseKeeping, American Academy of Ophthalmology, The Eye Institute, American Diabetes Association: Eye Complications.