You may have heard the saying that the eyes are windows to the soul. I’m going to guess the author of this quote wasn’t an eye doctor. However, the quote holds true when talking about what can be found out through an eye exam. By looking inside someone’s eyes, physicians can see blood vessels and nerve tissue without having to cut someone open to see them. That does make the eye a window, in a sense– if not into the soul, into the human body.
At our office, we look inside of eyes every day. On numerous occasions, we have been the first office to diagnose patients with serious – and sometimes life threatening – conditions. We have found signs of advanced diabetes in patients who didn’t know they had diabetes. We have seen signs of advanced hypertension in patients who didn’t know they had hypertension. We have found signs of cancer – both in patients who knew they had systemic cancer and in patients with no previous cancer diagnosis. Patients have presented to our office with signs and symptoms of stroke, shingles, thyroid disease, and multiple sclerosis before they have been diagnosed with these conditions. We have also seen patients with ocular signs and symptoms of underlying rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoid, lupus, rosacea, and myasthenia gravis.
If you ever wonder why we take such a thorough history and perform so many tests at our office, it’s because so many conditions can be diagnosed through an eye exam. There are literally hundreds of ocular conditions that we check for during eye exams - glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration - the list goes on. Then there are the systemic conditions like the ones above. When we find a patient with signs and symptoms of a serious systemic disease, we always communicate with that patient’s primary care physician. Communication is key to making sure a diagnosis is made quickly and treatment is started as soon as possible.
Finding serious disease through an eye exam is a double edged sword. It’s never fun to tell patients that we suspect they have a potentially serious condition. But it’s also gratifying to know that we may have caught something that is hopefully in an early stage and that can be treated before lasting damage occurs.
Until next time –
Clint Taylor, OD