They say that eyes are the windows to the soul. That may be true if you’re very skilled at reading body language and eye contact. But did you know that your eyes are windows to your internal health, even for those a little less inclined to pick up on those soul searching eye twitches? When you go to the eye doctor, he’s looking at more than your visual acuity, he’s checking for indicators of your internal health as well.
There are a variety of reasons that you might have red or bloodshot eyes. Sleep deprivation is the most obvious cause, but it could also be the sign of bigger issues. An intense cough can cause blood vessels in your eye to burst. Allergies, pinkeye, or a fungal infection can cause itchy and bloodshot eyes. Often the treatment for simple eye redness is rest and eye drops (over the counter or prescription, depending on what you’re dealing with).
Red Spots on the Retina
If you’ve noticed small red dots in your retina, this can be an early warning sign of diabetes. High blood sugar levels cause blood vessels to swell and block. Sometimes these tiny blood vessels in the retina burst, causing the small red dots. Without treatment, recurrent broken blood vessels in the eye can lead to impaired vision and possibly even blindness over the long term.
That microscope eye doctors use to look at your retina might also show kinked or twisted blood vessels in the eye, which is directly related to high blood pressure and a sign that the patient is fast approaching extreme risk of stroke. Of note, while cataract (cloudiness of the eye) is a normal sign of aging, cataracts in younger individuals is also an indication of diabetes (or possibly tumors, as well as a side effect to certain medications).
Spots You Can’t See With the Naked Eye
During a routine eye exam, doctors check for ocular melanoma, a cancer of the eye that’s rare, but plausible. Typically, these spots in the eye are not visible in a mirror and require those awesome machines the eye doctor uses to magnify the retina. If you’re dealing with intense pressure and pain in the eye, but the eye doctor cannot see any concerning indications within the eye itself, then a CT scan may be necessary to rule out brain tumor.
Some Other Unexpected Indicators of Health Issues
High cholesterol can show itself around the eyes as well. Get your cholesterol, lipids, and triglycerides checked by a doctor if you have yellowish bumps on the eyelids or gray rings around the cornea of your eyes (called arcus senilis). What an eye doctor calls exophthalmos—also known as bug eyes, or an abnormal protrusion of the eyeball—may reveal that you’re dealing with Grave’s Disease, or an overactive thyroid. Drooping eyelids (ptosis) can indicated an autoimmune disease. Drooping eyelids combined with different sized pupils is likely Horner’s Syndrome, which is a disruption of nerve pathways in the neck.
There’s no denying that the eyes offer strong indicators for serious conditions. Be sure to have your eyes checked regularly. After reading these, the value of an annual eye exam should become quite clear!