Our eyes are so central to our lives, it’s easy to take them for granted. Eyes not only help us see, they also express our emotions, our thoughts, and our intentions–and they help us make connections with other people. In addition to all of that, there are also major links between eyes and health, both mental and physical.
So pay attention to what you notice about your eyes. And even if you never needed glasses, it’s a good idea to see an eye doctor on a regular basis. There’s a lot they can understand about you, both inside and out, with just a quick look at your peepers.
Perhaps the most important link between eyes and health has to do with diabetes. While blurred vision usually just means you have glasses, it’s also a commonly reported symptom of diabetes. Even if you’ve noticed no blurriness, your eye doctor can spot risk of diabetes based on irregularities in your retina. If they see it, they’ll tell you whether a blood screening might be necessary to say for sure.
High Blood Pressure
You won’t see the signs yourself, but your eye doctor can look for damaged blood vessels in your eye—known as hypertensive retinopathy. If present, these can be signs of high blood pressure, which puts you at increased risk for heart disease and stroke. If your eye doctor sees these signs, they’ll recommend a visit to your doctor or a cardiac care specialist to determine your risk and recommend treatment.
Here’s a sign you can look for yourself: Arcus senilis. It might sound like a spell out of a Harry Potter book. But it’s actually a gray or white arc that forms above and below the cornea—the clear, domelike covering of the front of your eye. This ring of fat deposits is actually quite common in older adults, and not a sign for alarm. But in a younger person—especially before the age of 45—it can be a sign of dangerously high cholesterol.
If you notice a yellowish blotch or bump on the white of your eye, it could be a pterygium, more poetically known as “surfer’s eye,” or a precancerous pinguecula—conditions thought to be caused be excessive exposure to UV rays in sunlight. If you notice either of these, it’s a good idea to have them checked out by an eye doctor, who may recommend treatment as well as UV eye protection.
Though rare, a yellow cast to your eyes may be a sign of jaundice, a condition that in adults points to a serious liver condition. This could be caused by alcohol-related liver disease, hepatitis, or gallstones or cancer blocking your bile ducts. Any of these are quite serious. If your eyes are yellow, see a doctor.
One of the main signs of dry eye is excess tear production. This seems absurd, but the truth is that some eyes are so dry the tears can’t do their job properly. This can be caused by excessive exposure to dry and windy conditions, by allergies, and more and more commonly by excessive exposure to phone and computer screens. If changes to your habits or environment don’t help, or aren’t practical, over-the-counter artificial tears may help, or your doctor may recommend a dry-eye prescription.
Some of the most commonly reported eye symptoms are redness and itchiness—most commonly a sign of seasonal allergies. But if you experience any eye symptom that is new, puzzling, or lasts longer than expected, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor about it.