Optometrists can detect, monitor and treat many ocular diseases via comprehensive eye exams, ocular imaging and adjunct testing that can be found in our multiple office locations. Many systemic diseases can also be detected by examining the eyes.
Glaucoma is a disease that is commonly referred to as the “silent thief of sight”. It is a disease of the optic nerve and is often painless. Glaucoma can lead to permanent loss of peripheral vision and blindness if not detected early enough. Fortunately, glaucoma can be detected during a comprehensive eye exam and can be treated by optometrists, using prescription eye drops. Management of glaucoma includes close monitoring with follow-up exams and ancillary testing found in our offices.
Macular degeneration is an age-related disease that can severely impact our central vision, or ability to read. Early detection of changes in the macula is crucial and can also be detected during comprehensive eye exams. Progression can be monitored with ancillary testing, such as optical imaging, found in our offices.
Cataracts are also age-related changes that affect the lens of the eyes, causing blurry vision, decreased contract sensitivity and/or increased glare and light sensitivity. Comprehensive eye exams will uncover cataracts as well.
Many systemic diseases can also be detected by examining the eyes. For example, if someone has poorly-controlled diabetes, blood vessels on the retina can become leaky from elevated blood sugar. We may see hemorrhages, lipid deposits, micro aneurysms, and other signs that confirm diabetic retinopathy. This is a serious clue that the body needs help and blood sugar needs to be controlled. Hypertensive retinopathy can also be detected by looking at the structure and integrity of retinal blood vessels, and is a result of poorly controlled and dangerously high blood pressure in the body. Not only can vision be severely affected by these conditions, but clues to the systemic status of the body can help save lives.
Diseases of the nervous system and/or brain, like MS or pseudotumor cerebri, can also affect the eyes, by causing optic neuritis or papilledema. By examining the optic nerve, which is an extension of the brain, we can detect possible nervous system dysfunction that can arise as a result of systemic diseases, including trauma, strokes and other brain issues. Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, sarcoidosis and rheumatoid arthritis can also manifest in the eyes, causing painful inflammation, called uveitis. Even severe dry eyes can be an indication that the body is suffering from excess inflammation on a systemic level.
Diseases of the skin, such as malignant melanomas, can also be found in the eyes, since the eyes are an extension of our skin. Many people, who are at risk for this type of skin cancer, visit the dermatologist for annual skin evaluations. A retinal melanoma, however, can only be detected with a dilated fundus exam.
As you can see, an eye exam is much more than looking at an eye chart and reading 20/20 letters. Detection of ocular disease is an important and critical part of having your eyes checked. Many of the ocular diseases mentioned above, as well as others, are often painless and can lead to visual deterioration and/or poor overall health is left untreated.