Why an eye test could save your life

Published: Sunday 23rd November 2014 by The News Editor

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They may be the windows to the soul, but eyes can also give a clear view of what’s occurring in less ethereal parts of the body.

As well as detecting vision problems they can sometimes also reveal whether you’re suffering health conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure.

“Getting an eye examination is a bit like getting a whole physical examination,” explains ophthalmic surgeon Dr Steve Schallhorn, chief medical director at Optical Express. “There are a variety of eye and general health conditions that can be picked up in an eye examination that are essentially silent.”

And not just ‘silent’ but highly treatable – if they’re picked up early.

However, the Eyecare Trust estimates that one in 10 adults have never had an eye examination – even though 85% of Britons admit to having vision problems.

Kelly Plahay, chairman of the Eyecare Trust, points out that many people are reluctant to get their eyes checked until they notice their sight has declined – by which point, irreparable damage to the eyes, or other parts of the body, may already have occurred.

“Poor uptake of sight tests is probably the biggest risk to the nation’s eye health,” she says. “Around 20 million of us fail to have our sight tested once every two years, yet a simple sight test can detect glaucoma years before you notice lost vision, and many childhood eye conditions which can be permanently corrected if diagnosed early enough.

“Sight tests really are essential health checks.”

According to the Eyecare Trust, around 20 million Britons risk avoidable sight loss because they fail to have regular sight tests – despite the fact that more than 30 million are entitled to free NHS eye care.

Adults should have an eye examination once every two years, unless advised otherwise by their optometrist, and the Eyecare Trust recommends children aged under nine, and people aged 70 and over have annual examinations.

Still not convinced? Here’s how a simple eye test could help save your life…


Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes can creep up very slowly and are often dismissed as tiredness, or just part of growing old, but Dr Schallhorn points out that he’s diagnosed cases from eye tests.

High blood-sugar related to diabetes can cause problems in the small blood vessels resulting in diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to blindness. An optometrist will be able to spot early characteristic changes.

“Nowhere are the blood vessels more important than in the retina at the back of the eye,” explains Dr Schallhorn. “Eyecare professionals have a window to look at this, and we can see very early signs of diabetes and the effect it has on blood vessels in the back of the eye.

High blood pressure

Effects of high blood pressure can sometimes be seen inside the eye. This is because the force of blood passing through blood vessels in the retina can cause hypertensive retinopathy. Blood vessel walls may thicken, narrowing the vessels and restricting blood from reaching the retina. It often becomes swollen and its function is limited, and there may be bleeding behind the eye.

High cholesterol and cardiovascular problems

Because of the high blood flow at the back of the eye, excessive cholesterol – which is linked to cardiovascular problems – may also be spotted there. Changes in the patterns of ocular veins and arteries can also be linked to cardiovascular disease and stroke. Dr Schallhorn says: “The back of the eye is part of the brain, so anything that can affect the brain can affect the eye – and often they affect the eye first.”

Copyright Press Association 2014

Published: Sunday 23rd November 2014 by The News Editor

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