Your Eyes and Overall Health – It’s All Connected
It’s important to remember that the eyes are connected to many other systems in the human body. That makes routine eye exams an important part of preventative healthcare—regardless of your age or physical health.
Comprehensive eye exams not only test your vision, but also give optometrists a close-up look at the inside of the eye, including blood vessels, veins and nerves, all of which may contain clues to conditions that affect your overall health.
Some of these conditions can be quite serious, which means that an eye exam can actually help save your life. The sooner an issue is detected, the better the chances of successful treatment.
- Doctors of optometry are often the first health-care professionals
to detect high blood pressure
- By looking at the blood vessels in the retina at the back of the
eye, an eye exam can help identify risks for stroke or heart
attack—before they occur.
- Information obtained through an eye exam often helps determine
appropriate treatment for patients, decreasing the risks of
- Optometrists are often able to see indicators of diabetes in the eyes before the disease is formally diagnosed.
- Diabetes can damage the small blood vessels in the retina, or at the back of the eye.
- Early detection of diabetes through an eye exam not only reduces
the risk of vision loss, but also can minimize the risk of complications
such as heart disease and kidney failure.
- A comprehensive eye exam can identify unusual structures or growths
within the eye, including a rare form of cancer called ocular melanoma,
which can be life threatening if it spreads.
- Brain tumors can cause loss of peripheral vision, or damage the
nerves that supply the muscles of the eyes, resulting in abnormal eye
movements, double vision or other changes in vision.
- Skin cancer can also be detected through an eye exam, as lesions
called basal cell carcinomas can show up on the eyelid and can possibly
spread to the brain through the eye.
Other health conditions that may show symptoms in the eyes include tumors, aneurysms, autoimmune disorders, thyroid disease, sickle cell disease, liver disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological or brain disorders.Only comprehensive eye exams will help detect these conditions because they evaluate total eye health; sight tests will only gauge how well you see.
The Alberta Association of Optometrists recommends adults have an eye exam every two years, and annually for those over 65. Children should have at least one eye exam between the ages of two and five, and yearly after starting school. Infants should have their first eye exam between six and nine months of age.
In Alberta, annual comprehensive eye exams are covered for children until they turn 19, and seniors 65 and older. Medically necessary visits to an optometrist, including eye infections, eye injuries or sudden changes in vision are also covered for Albertans of all ages.
Use the Find an Optometrist link in the top left corner to find a doctor of optometry near you.