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What's Up Magazine

Keep a Close Eye on Your Health

Jul 25, 2012 03:00AM ● By Anonymous


Did you know that high cholesterol may first be spotted during an eye exam? Some people can develop a light gray ring or arc around the pupil. This effect is often associated with fat deposits in our corneas. It most commonly occurs as people age. But when seen in a patient under the age of 45, it may be an indication of high cholesterol. It may also, according to, be related to a genetic condition called familial hyperlipidemia, which causes extremely high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Found early, conditions such as these have a much better chance of being effectively treated and managed.

Several conditions can also be present if the whites of the eyes are turning yellowish. Most of us know that this is an indication of liver problems, but it can also be associated with gallbladder and bile duct issues.

In fact, an eye exam may be the ultimate non-invasive procedure. Our eyes, it turns out, are one of the few organs in our body through which physicians can directly view blood vessels. And research would seem to suggest a strong correlation between retinal blood vessels and cardiovascular health. Changes in the retina due to cardiovascular disease are especially common among people with diabetes and the elderly. According to Kimberly Stepien, M.D., an ophthalmologist with the Eye Institute at the Medical Center of Wisconsin, our eye doctor might see signs of cardiovascular or systemic diseases before we even experience symptoms. The smallest changes in retinal blood vessels, she explains, could indicate high blood pressure or other vascular abnormalities, or systemic diseases such as diabetes, AIDS, lupus or sarcoidosis.

Of course, eye exams are also critical to the detection of diseases of the eye. According to Eye Care America, a public service foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, “In many cases, the most severe eye diseases offer no warning signs until it is too late and vision loss is irreversible. But regular eye exams can help you catch problems early, while there is still time to treat conditions and prevent permanent loss of sight.” The sooner diseases of the eye can be discovered, the more effectively they can be treated.

In the midst of all this detection, let’s not forget about prevention. After all, it’s a perfect time of year to remember one easy-peasy step we can all take to help prevent eye problems: Wear Sunglasses.  

Although cataracts are not completely preventable, their occurrence can be delayed, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, by avoiding over exposure to sunlight. Proper sunglasses act as a sunscreen for the eyes, blocking the same harmful rays that cause sunburn or skin cancer. Moreover, UV radiation can irritate or even burn the cornea. It has even been linked to skin cancer around the eyelid. And the glare reflected off the many, many bodies of water we encounter here in the Chesapeake Region can cause that temporary “flashbulb” blindness effect if you aren’t wearing your shades.

An eye exam is a stress-free, pain-free way of protecting your health. Even if you don’t wear prescription lenses, you should keep your overall health in mind. The American Optometric Association recommends that children receive exams at age six months, three years, and before they enter first grade. Every two years is suggested thereafter until the patient reaches age 60. Once we are in our 60s, annual examinations should be the rule of thumb. This is one chapter on good health none of us wants to skim.

Illustration by Dana Pulver, Savanah College of Art and Design