What can your eyes reveal about your health? Quite a lot – and some things you can see simply by looking in the mirror.
Dr. John C. Hagan, III, a ophthalmologist in private practice in Kansas City, Mo. explains what he looks for when he examines his patients – and what you can look for on your own.
Doctors call this condition exophthalmos, and it’s a common sign of Grave’s disease, a.k.a. overactive thyroid. In addition to the bug-eyed look, people with Grave’s often experience weight loss, nervousness, and a rapid or irregular pulse. As for the green tint, that’s just light from the room, not part of the condition.
Gray ring around the cornea
Gray isn’t just for hair. Some people develop a gray ring around the edge of the cornea. The ring, which doctors call arcus senilis, often goes hand in hand with high cholesterol and triglycerides – and an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Anyone who has the condition should have a blood test to check for elevated blood lipids – especially people under age 60.
This is a cataract – a clouding of the lens inside the eye. The condition, which can be corrected with surgery, is most common in older people. Cataracts that arise in younger people can have a variety of causes, including tumors and diabetes, as well as side effects from certain medications
Basal cell carcinomas can show up in some pretty strange places, including the eyelid, where it often causes a sore that doesn’t heal and the loss of eyelashes. And it’s not something to be ignored. Although basal cell skin cancers are not usually fatal, they can cause severe disfigurement, blindness and even death if they reach the brain through the eye socket.
Though this might look like a tumor under the skin, it’s actually nothing more than a blocked oil gland. Known as a chalazion, this hard, painless mass typically comes up quickly over a few days. It’s most common in people with oily skin.
Droopy eyelids on both sides (ptosis) can be evidence of myasthenia gravis – an autoimmune disease characterized by muscle weakness. Good medical treatment is available for the potentially deadly disease, but the condition in milder forms can be difficult to diagnose. This patient, who could barely keep her eyelids open, was diagnosed by her eye doctor.
Eye doctors can diagnose all sorts of diseases and medical conditions by looking at the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. One condition that ophthalmologists sometimes spot is HIV/AIDS, which causes the severe and potentially blinding inflammation of the retina shown here.
These eyes are showing a potentially dangerous combination: droopy eyelids (which doctors call ptosis) and pupils of different sizes (aneisocoria) If you see this condition when you look in a mirror, see a doctor fast. The condition, which doctors call Horner’s syndrome, is sometimes associated with aneurysms and tumors in the neck.
High blood pressure
Eye doctors can detect evidence of high blood pressure by looking at the retina. The pressure causes tiny blood vessels in the retina to kink and twist, which is pointed out by one arrow. The other arrow points to “dents” in retinal veins, a condition known as A-V nicking. This person is at high risk for a devastating stroke.
Marfan’s Syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects the connective tissue in the body. Extreme height and thinness and unusually slender fingers are common markers of Marfan’s, but the condition is sometimes diagnosed by eye doctors who observe characteristic changes in the string-like tissue that holds the eye’s crystalline lens in place (which doctors call “sunrise syndrome”).
It’s vital that Marfan’s be diagnosed as soon as possible, as the condition is commonly associated with weakness of the wall of the aorta. A rupture of the aorta is likely to be fatal. In fact, that’s what happened to Olympic volleyball star Flo Hyman.
Sometimes cancer that arises elsewhere in the body shows up first in the eyes. The two most common cancers that spread to the eye are lung cancer in men and breast cancer in women.
Lots of people have diabetes and don’t know it. But the disease often causes telltale changes in the retina that can be picked up by an ophthalmologist. In this eye, diabetes has caused tiny hemorrhages in the retina and yellowish deposits of blood fats (lipids). The condition is known as diabetic retinopathy.
This eye shows evidence of severe diabetic retinopathy, which is a leading cause of poor vision and blindness. This patients needs laser treatments to fix the damage.