Are the eyes “windows to the soul,” as the ancient proverb states? Maybe, but they are certainly portals through which one can catch a glimpse of certain health problems — not only eye disorders like cataracts and glaucoma, but also systemic illnesses like diabetes mellitus (DM) and cardiovascular disease. Sometimes the signs of these diseases are visible in, on, or around the eyes long before symptoms appear.
The eye is the only organ of the body that allows a direct view of a nerve (optic nerve), and blood vessels.
Here are some ocular manifestations that can be seen by anyone and are clear signs of problems occurring in the rest of the body.
Protruding eyes: Bulging eyes may be a sign of a thyroid disorder.
Pupil disparity: Unequal pupil size (abnormally small or large) may be an indication of stroke, aneurysm, brain tumor, or even lung tumor.
Yellow eyes: Diseases of the liver resulting in jaundice, including hepatitis and cirrhosis can turn the sclera (also known as the white of the eye) yellow.
Some correlations between the eye and the body may sound silly. For example:
We know that having diabetes can result in damaged nerves throughout the entire body, and the eye is no exception. The decrease in sensation of the cornea directly correlates to decreased sensation in the big toe. Therefore, the more nerve damage a diabetic has in his/her toe the more nerve damage in his/her cornea.
A dilated examination of the retina is perhaps the most telling of one’s general health especially in those with diabetes. We know damaged blood vessels in the retina raises the likelihood of damaged blood vessels elsewhere. Approximately 35% of those with diabetic retinopathy have some stage of kidney impairment. Furthermore, 56% of diabetics with nerve damage in their extremities have retinopathy. The presence of retinopathy also more than doubles the risk of death by heart attack or stroke.
It’s a common mistake to think that each of our body parts/organs works independently without any significant interaction. Recognizing that a patient has an entire body beyond their eyes is always in the forefront of my mind when examining someone. In systemic conditions such as diabetes it is imperative for each health care provider on the patient’s team to have a broad understanding of the various complications and to establish communication between each other.
Vision Wellness doctors recommend diabetics have at least one dilated exam yearly. For more information about making an appointment please visit our contact page on the website. If you have any questions please leave a blog post, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
Look Great. Feel Great. Be Great!
- Dr. Lee