Written by Solaade Ayo-Aderele - Nigeria
There's a popular saying among physicians, to the intent that the eye is the window to the body. Even if you've never heard this before, have you noticed that when you visit the doctor, one of the regular examinations he does is to gently examine your eye? It's not for nothing, it turns out.
Indeed, experts say, the body's systems are interconnected, such that changes in the eye can reflect whatever changes are ongoing in the vascular, nervous and immune system, among others.
Researchers say that because the eyes are see-through in a way other organs aren't, they offer a unique glimpse into the body, and the blood vessels, nerves and tissue can all be viewed directly through the eye with the aid of specialised equipment.
Numerous researches are being carried out to determine how physicians can use the window of the eye to correctly tell where a problem lurks in the body, and checkmate it before it progresses further. Here are some of the diseases that can be correctly diagnosed through the eye.
Experts say one of the well-known effects of diabetes is eye and vision damage, usually caused by diabetic retinopathy.
"This means that delicate blood vessels in the eye swell or bleed; while they may also grow abnormally on the retina itself. When this happens, it allows unprocessed blood sugars, fats, and proteins to leak out of weakened blood vessels. And that is what damages the retina and can cause vision loss," Diabetologist/Medical Director of Rainbow Specialist Medical Centre, Lekki, Dr. Afokoghene Isiavwe, says.
An online portal, rnib.org.uk, notes that the unusual changes in blood sugar levels resulting from diabetes can affect the lens inside the eye, especially when the diabetes is not being controlled via proper medical supervision. This can result in blurring of vision, which comes and goes over the day, depending on the patient's blood sugar levels.
Isiavwe notes that cataract is the resultant long-term effect of diabetes, being a condition that makes the lens of the eye to go cloudy.
Not everyone who has diabetes develops an eye complication, experts say. And of those that do, many patients have a very mild form of retinopathy, which may never progress to a condition that threatens the sight.
The American Diabetes Association notes that roughly 90 per cent of diabetes-related blindness can be avoided by getting an annual eye exam.
Isiavwe warns that in order to prevent sight loss due to diabetic retinopathy, you should have regular retinal screening. "Early detection and treatment may prevent sight loss," she declares.
General Practitioner, Dr. Abiola Lanre-Iyanda, says if any disease could readily be detected via the window of the eye, it is jaundice. She notes, "Jaundice is often more prominent in the whites of the eyes." She also warns that, depending on the skin tone, it can be a sign of liver disease. An eye test enables the patient to take charge of their health condition immediately, Lanre-Iyanda says.
Experts say this deadly disease can manifest as bleeding in new blood vessels, and cause the retina to detach.
Experts say the retina is the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the inner eye, which acts like the film in a camera. Images come through the eye's lens and are focused on the retina. The retina then converts these images to electric signals and sends them via the optic nerve to the brain.
The retina is normally red due to its rich blood supply. An ophthalmoscope allows a health care provider to see through your pupil and lens to the retina. If the provider sees any changes in the colour or appearance of the retina, it may indicate a disease.
Scottish scientists at the University of Edinburgh say a simple eye test, such as taking a high-definition image of the retina, could reveal problems with blood vessels that are indicative of cardiac disease.
Again, physicians reveal that very high blood pressure in anyone who is over the age of 30 can lead to crossings in the blood vessels of the eye, where the artery has hardened and probably severe the vein underneath. They warn that an eye test will reveal a very high pressure that may cause blood vessels to burst and haemorrhages to form. This test can, therefore, save thousands of heart attack patients from sudden death, experts argue.
Sickle cell anaemia
Physicians say while sickle cell disease is present at birth, most infants don't show any signs until they are over four months old. They warn that the symptoms of the disease vary, and that in some people, they are mild, while in others, they may be severe and require hospitalisation.
Experts say sickle cell disease and sickle cell trait can be diagnosed with a simple blood test; but researchers now argue that the disease can also be diagnosed through certain unusual characteristics in the eye.
They warn that yellowing of the eyes might, sometimes, be an indication of the disease, in addition to other known symptoms.
Researchers are currently studying how dark spots on the back of the eye, known as congenital hypertrophy of the retinal pigment epithelium, are associated with certain forms of colon cancer, and how dementia-related changes are signaled in the eye, such as how the eye reacts to light.
Tell the average person to go for HIV screening, and he wonders why. Yet, even if you are afraid to know your HIV status, a simple eye test can still reveal what is going on in your bloodstream.
According to researchers, HIV/AIDS, lupus and other autoimmune diseases can be detected through certain eye examinations.
Scientists say this is because the diseases can cause the retina to become severely inflamed, and consequently lead to blindness if adequate care is not taken.
Experts say sometimes, symptoms of stroke develop gradually. But when an individual is having a stroke, he might likely have one or more sudden warning signs, including inability to see with one or both eyes.
Lanre-Iyanda says sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes can be the sign of a stroke. "And that's why an eye test could reveal whether a part or the entire sight has been damaged or missing. When this happens, it will certainly correlate with the side of the brain affected by the stroke," she intones.
To stay safe, go for eye test today, and make it a twice-a-year habit afterwards.