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Your Eyes Are the Windows to Your Health

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Your eyes aren't just the windows to your soul — they can also reveal valuable information about your general health beyond whether you need glasses, including: diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. It is not unusual for people to come in for an eye exam just to check their eyesight and then have certain health issues or predispositions picked up by the optometrist. 

Eye Exams and Your Health

Eye examinations can help doctors detect general health conditions early enough to intervene. Advanced screenings enable eye doctors to better predict cardiovascular incidents like stroke, and possibly detect signs of mental changes such as Alzheimer's. Read below to learn how eye exams can unveil a whole lot more than just eye health.

Brain Cancer & Stroke

Because of the similarities between the blood vessels in the eye and brain, an eye doctor can occasionally detect an issue taking place in the brain by examining the blood vessels in the eyes. If swelling or shadows in the eye is observed, it may indicate a serious condition in the brain, like a tumor, or clots that might result in a stroke.

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye, resulting in Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) and Diabetic Macular Edema (DME). If an optometrist detects leaky blood vessels in the eye, the patient would be advised to see a doctor to help control their blood sugar. Changes are gradual, and they start before visual symptoms are noticed. The earlier diabetic eye disease is managed, the better the chances are of preserving eyesight. 

Hypertension

High blood pressure, characterized by having too much pressure in the blood vessels, can be detected during an eye exam, sometimes even before it's diagnosed by your regular doctor. The damaged blood vessels lead to swelling, hemorrhages, and leaking — all of which can be observed in the eyes. According to the CDC, hypertension "the silent killer" affects nearly 1 in 3 adults, and up to a whopping 20% of those don't even know they have it. So early detection at an eye doctor's evaluation can be truly life-saving.

High Cholesterol 

Eye exams can also detect a buildup of cholesterol. High cholesterol is among the easiest conditions to spot during a complete eye exam, as the cholesterol deposits manifest on the front of the eye, appearing as a thin, gray rim around the cornea. It can also be detected in the retina by assessing artery and vein patterns.

These deposits may indicate the current or future development of Retinal Blood Vessel Occlusion, a condition where blockages restrict blood flow to the back of the eye, causing temporary or permanent vision loss. 

Heart Conditions

In some cases, heart conditions associated with a buildup of plaque in the carotid artery in the heart can also lead to deposits that clog the ocular arteries in the eye. If an optometrist detects such changes to the vascular structure at the back of the eye, he or she will typically recommend going to a specialist.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Sudden vision loss may be attributed to Multiple Sclerosis (MS). While the optometrist can recognize signs indicating the presence of MS, such as the color and appearance of the optic nerve, such cases will be referred for further testing to confirm the diagnosis.

Thyroid

Thyroid disease can make itself apparent through the eyes in several ways. The thyroid gland controls the hormones that regulate tear production so some thyroid disorders can cause dry eye disease. Additionally, overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can make the extraocular muscles enlarge and stiffen, causing bulging eyes — an indicator of Graves' disease. 

Inflammation

Systemic conditions that are associated with inflammation in the body can have an inflammatory effect on the eyes. Uveitis, for example, causes eye inflammation, redness, and blurred vision, and tends to occur in people with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases. 

Cancer

Breast cancer, leukemia, and other metastatic cancers are occasionally discovered during an eye evaluation. In addition to brain cancer mentioned above, melanoma and basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) can be detected, and eye doctors can also diagnose lymphoma and other eye tumors. Eye exams save lives.

What the Future Holds 

Alzheimer's 

Recent studies show that a non-invasive and precise imaging device called Octa (optical coherence tomography angiography) can signal the presence of eye changes associated with Alzheimer's disease. Because the retina is in many ways an extension of the brain, the altered blood vessels at the back of the eye offer a glimpse into the changes taking place within the brain.

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's Disease can often be misdiagnosed as its early symptoms are characteristic of other conditions. Research has shown that subtle eye tremors, an early Parkinson's marker, could be detectable using advanced eye exam technology. One day soon, practitioners may send patients to an eye doctor to test for this and other diseases.

Your Eye Doctor's Appointment Could Change Your Life

So the next time you visit Dr. Joseph Hickey at Drs. Hickey, Burke & Associates in Charlottetown, remember that a comprehensive eye exam can do more than determine your eyeglasses or contacts prescription. Dr. Joseph Hickey can evaluate your eyes for existing or potential health issues, and communicate them to your primary care physician for the best possible care. By knowing that you're at risk for a certain disease, you can take precautions early on and manage the condition as needed. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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Coronavirus Update

To all our wonderful patients and others in need,

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, both PEI’s Chief Health Officer and the Prince Edward Island College of Optometrists have recommended that non-urgent eye examinations cease for the time being.

In order to protect our patients, staff and the general public, we of course will follow this recommendation, starting Wednesday March 18, with a further review and decision on April 6th. However, we have no intentions of leaving our patients without eye care and will have one doctor in to see emergency patients each business day. We feel that to fail to provide emergency eye care would only add to the congestion at medical clinics and hospitals.

If you are experiencing any eye problems at all, please call us at 902-368-3001. Examples would include: sudden changes in vision, eye infections, a foreign body in an eye, flashes of lightning in your vision, new floaters in your vision, or broken glasses with no backup to get you by. Those are only to name a few. We will decide whether your situation is urgent in nature and book you in if it is.

We are here for you, even through this difficult time, but expect strict COVID-19 screening questions from our staff when you call.

If you have eyewear ordered with us, you will be receiving a call when it arrives as usual. The staff will make arrangements with you for pick up, however, like all else, we suggest waiting to pick up glasses until we are back to full operations. If you are in need of the glasses, we will arrange for you to pick them up. For contact lenses, any remaining balance will be requested over the phone to limit time and contact in the office and you can then proceed to pick them up. We are also still accepting orders. Some brands can even deliver directly to you. Others we will meet you at our office door with.

After lengthy discussion, we feel that routine adjustments are not essential services and at this time we would ask you refrain from coming in for that service. If you are in a painful situation with your glasses, or they require a major adjustment or repair, please call to discuss a solution.

Please everyone take care and try to carry out the advice being given on limiting the spread of this virus so we can all get back to the Island way of life we all love.