An Expert Opinion on the Value of Comprehensive Eye Exams for Overall Health

Well visits, annual checkups and preventive screenings can seem like a waste of time and money when you feel perfectly healthy. If your eyes have not been bothering you lately, you might think you don’t need a comprehensive eye exam this year. It might sound logical that you should not have to visit the doctor if you are not having any vision problems, but you may want to reconsider this decision. A comprehensive eye exam involves much more than just evaluating whether you need glasses; it can help diagnose refractive errors, focusing problems, and eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Even if you think that your eyesight has not changed at all, a comprehensive eye exam is incredibly valuable. After all, not all eye issues have noticeable symptoms in early stages. Delaying an eye exam could mean permanent vision damage.

drehlen.jpgGetting regular eye exams is actually an important component for whole-body wellness. According to Timothy Ehlen, M.D., of Minneapolis Eye Center, a thorough eye exam offers incredible insight into one’s overall health. “By looking at the retina and blood vessels of the eye, we can detect symptoms of other health problems and potential diseases.”

There are several conditions that are often detected during a routine comprehensive eye exam, and here are some of the most common:

High Cholesterol
drtaylor.jpgIf your ophthalmologist notices that your cornea is yellowish or has a yellow ring around it, this hue may indicate elevated cholesterol levels. Plaque can also be detected in the blood vessels of the retina. YourSightMatters Medical Director Jeff Taylor, M.D., of The Eye Surgery Center of Paducah in Kentucky, says that a comprehensive eye exam could potentially be life-saving. “Plaques in blood vessels with high cholesterol is a common occurrence,” said Dr. Taylor. “At least once a month, I see a patient with a plaque in an artery that is a potential high risk for carotid artery disease and stroke. We order a carotid ultrasound exam to evaluate blood flow and often prevent stokes by alerting the primary care doctor to the carotid artery blockage. The primary care doctor then initiates blood thinners or proceeds with surgery to clean out the carotid arteries.”

Diabetes is a metabolic disease that causes high blood sugar levels. During a comprehensive eye exam, your ophthalmologist may detect small capillaries in the retina leaking blood or yellowish fluid, which could indicate diabetic retinopathy. This eye condition can develop from undiagnosed or uncontrolled type 1 or type 2 diabetes. If your ophthalmologist sees weakness in the blood vessels of the retina, he or she will refer you to a specialist who can help control your diabetes.

High Blood Pressure
Hypertension can prevent oxygen from reaching all areas of the retina and can cause patches of retinal damage and blood vessel leakage. When your ophthalmologist looks at your retina, the blood vessels may appear narrower and look bent, torn or twisted. David P. Rowell, M.D., of Salem Laser and Surgery Center in Salem, Oregon, says that it is actually quite common for hypertension to be first detected and diagnosed during an eye exam. However, there is no specific treatment for damaged blood vessels resulting from hypertension. “Our goal is to help lower blood pressure to prevent damage to the heart and the kidneys,” said Dr. Rowell. “As hypertension is controlled, we usually see a steady improvement in ocular blood vessel health.” In rare cases, high blood pressure can cause irreversible vision loss, so a comprehensive eye exam could make all the difference.

Comprehensive eye exams are an essential component to overall wellness. Have you considered that perhaps you are in excellent health for the very reason that you stay current with your annual checkups? Preventive care is meant to protect you from diseases, so schedule your comprehensive eye exam every 1 to 2 years for optimum eye health. Early detection means early treatment.

If you are looking for a qualified ophthalmologist for your eye care, please contact one of our YourSightMatters partners below, or use our Find a Physician locator tool to find a specialist in your area.

Dr. Jeff Taylor in Paducah, Ky.
Dr. David P. Rowell in Salem, Ore.
Dr. Timothy Ehlen in Golden Valley, Minn.