From optometrists to ophthalmologists, all eye doctors are aware that a routine examination of the retina allows them to view problems with blood vessels and nerves that may be indicative of overall chronic health issues. However, most patients do not expect to hear about other health conditions when they get their eyes examined.
Eye doctors can and should talk with their patients about any chronic diseases that a routine eye examination can reveal, as this might be the first time a patient becomes aware of a potentially life-threatening health condition. This ABC news article cites experts like Roy Chuck, MD/PhD and chair of the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
A Reader's Digest article by the physicians on the television show "The Doctors" remind the public about the types of chronic problems an optometrist can uncover. As a result, optometrists can approach patients about the irregularities that they see.
The Reader's Digest article above presents information from Dr. Joseph Pizzimenti, OD, optometrist and associate professor at Nova Southeastern University College of Eye Care; assistant professor of ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medical College, Jessica Ciralsky, MD; and former 2013 president of the American Optometric Association (AOA) Dr. Mitchell Munson.
Here are just a few of the chronic conditions an eye doctor can sometimes find indicated in a routine eye examination:
1. High blood pressure, hypertension and heart disease – Evidence exists of a link between heart disease and the narrowing of small blood vessels in the retina. As a result, professionals like Dr. Ciralsky affirm that eye doctors can spot blood vessel damage (such as weakening and narrowing of the arteries), which may be an indication of high blood pressure. In addition, Dr. Roy Chuck tells ABC News as far back as 2012 that bleeding in new blood vessels may indicate advanced hypertension, leading to retinal attachment.
2. Cancers - Dr. Pizzimenti's insights remind vision doctors that they can detect malignant melanomas at the back of the eye, as well as brain tumors that cause changes in a patient's field of vision. In addition, Dr. Pizzimenti tells readers that certain types of bleeding in the retina may indicate leukemia. Because some patients now come to their visits with a basic understanding of the optician's ability to spot melanomas, it may be less difficult for opticians to discuss with them what the presence of these abnormalities in the retina can mean.
3. Type 2 diabetes - Dr. Pizzimenti also reminds readers that small amounts of blood in the retina may be signs of diabetic retinopathy. While the condition causes blindness when left untreated, with early diagnosis, optometrists can catch the disease early and remind the patient to make lifestyle changes that potentially cut the risk of further damage in half.
4. Rheumatoid arthritis - Dr. Roy Munson states that 25 percent of RA patients have eye issues. Because people with RA have high levels of inflammatory chemicals in their blood, those chemicals can migrate to the eyeball. As a result, two bouts of iritis in a year, or three bouts in 18 months can signal the presence of rheumatoid arthritis -- something for optometrists to keep in mind when examining and tracking irregularities in a patient's iris.
5. Multiple sclerosis - Lastly, Dr. Munson states that vision doctors can detect optic neuritis. This degenerative disease of the nervous system is linked with MS, and is present in 75% of MS patients. Since patients with optic neuritis can experience blurred vision or no symptoms at all, it is important for vision doctors to identify any inflammation of the optic nerve.
While patients routinely visit their optometrist to get an updated glasses prescription, optometrists are in a position to receive detailed information about the overall health of a patient. There are some diseases eye doctors might find first. As patients are currently being educated about the importance of keeping up with long-term eye care, optometrists should feel free to discuss any abnormalities they find in a patient's routine eye examination -- what chronic conditions those abnormalities indicate, what patients can do about them, and where to go to get further medical evaluation.