Eyes are often called the “window to the soul,” but they can also be the “window to your health.”
Most people know that it is essential to visit your primary physician for an annual check-up, but an annual eye exam is an important part of staying healthy as well.
The eye is the only area of the body where doctors can see small blood vessels with such clarity. So, during your annual physical exam, your physician will examine your eyes briefly with a handheld tool called an ophthalmoscope. This device gives your physician a great view of those blood vessels located on the back wall of your eye. However, for a much more thorough understanding of your eye health, you need a dedicated eye exam by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. These health care providers have an arsenal of tools and techniques at their disposal for examining the eye and screening for eye disease.
For example, when your optometrist or ophthalmologist looks at the back wall of your eye, they lower the lights in the room and use drops to dilate your eyes. This enhanced exam is more effective in detecting changes in or damage to those blood vessels which can be caused by high blood pressure or diabetes. As a result, eye doctors frequently refer patients to their primary care physicians in the early stages of these diseases.
When diabetes is diagnosed, medical doctors and eye specialists work hand in hand monitoring patients for complications from the disease. One such complication, diabetic retinopathy, damages the blood vessels of the retina and is the most common cause of blindness in American adults. This too can be detected during a dilated eye exam.
An eye specialist can also screen for glaucoma, a condition where fluid builds up in the eye causing increased pressure that can damage the optic nerve. If left untreated, it can lead to blindness.
Macular degeneration is another disease that your optometrist or ophthalmologist is trained to detect. This is an eye disorder associated with aging and results in damage to the central vision which at its worst can result in the permanent impairment of vision needed for reading and close-up sight.
It takes a team of providers to monitor and maintain your health. When scheduling your annual exams, do not ignore your eyes, as they can be the “window” we need to see what is going on in the rest of your body.
Jill Kruse, D.O., is part of The Prairie Doc team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc, a medical Q&A show streaming on Facebook and broadcast on SDPB most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.