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Your Eyes Are the Windows to Your Health

Your eyes aren’t just the windows to your soul — they can also reveal valuable information about your general health beyond whether you need glasses, including: diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. It is not unusual for people to come in for an eye exam just to check their eyesight and then have certain health issues or predispositions picked up by the optometrist. 

Eye Exams and Your Health

Eye examinations can help doctors detect general health conditions early enough to intervene. Advanced screenings enable eye doctors to better predict cardiovascular incidents like stroke, and possibly detect signs of mental changes such as Alzheimer’s. Read below to learn how eye exams can unveil a whole lot more than just eye health.

Brain Cancer & Stroke

Because of the similarities between the blood vessels in the eye and brain, an eye doctor can occasionally detect an issue taking place in the brain by examining the blood vessels in the eyes. If swelling or shadows in the eye is observed, it may indicate a serious condition in the brain, like a tumor, or clots that might result in a stroke.

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye, resulting in Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) and Diabetic Macular Edema (DME). If an optometrist detects leaky blood vessels in the eye, the patient would be advised to see a doctor to help control their blood sugar. Changes are gradual, and they start before visual symptoms are noticed. The earlier diabetic eye disease is managed, the better the chances are of preserving eyesight. 

Hypertension

High blood pressure, characterized by having too much pressure in the blood vessels, can be detected during an eye exam, sometimes even before it’s diagnosed by your regular doctor. The damaged blood vessels lead to swelling, hemorrhages, and leaking — all of which can be observed in the eyes. According to the CDC, hypertension “the silent killer” affects nearly 1 in 3 adults, and up to a whopping 20% of those don’t even know they have it. So early detection at an eye doctor’s evaluation can be truly life-saving.

High Cholesterol 

Eye exams can also detect a buildup of cholesterol. High cholesterol is among the easiest conditions to spot during a complete eye exam, as the cholesterol deposits manifest on the front of the eye, appearing as a thin, gray rim around the cornea. It can also be detected in the retina by assessing artery and vein patterns.

These deposits may indicate the current or future development of Retinal Blood Vessel Occlusion, a condition where blockages restrict blood flow to the back of the eye, causing temporary or permanent vision loss. 

Heart Conditions

In some cases, heart conditions associated with a buildup of plaque in the carotid artery in the heart can also lead to deposits that clog the ocular arteries in the eye. If an optometrist detects such changes to the vascular structure at the back of the eye, he or she will typically recommend going to a specialist.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Sudden vision loss may be attributed to Multiple Sclerosis (MS). While the optometrist can recognize signs indicating the presence of MS, such as the color and appearance of the optic nerve, such cases will be referred for further testing to confirm the diagnosis.

Thyroid

Thyroid disease can make itself apparent through the eyes in several ways. The thyroid gland controls the hormones that regulate tear production so some thyroid disorders can cause dry eye disease. Additionally, overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can make the extraocular muscles enlarge and stiffen, causing bulging eyes — an indicator of Graves’ disease. 

Inflammation

Systemic conditions that are associated with inflammation in the body can have an inflammatory effect on the eyes. Uveitis, for example, causes eye inflammation, redness, and blurred vision, and tends to occur in people with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases. 

Cancer

Breast cancer, leukemia, and other metastatic cancers are occasionally discovered during an eye evaluation. In addition to brain cancer mentioned above, melanoma and basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) can be detected, and eye doctors can also diagnose lymphoma and other eye tumors. Eye exams save lives.

What the Future Holds 

Alzheimer’s 

Recent studies show that a non-invasive and precise imaging device called Octa (optical coherence tomography angiography) can signal the presence of eye changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Because the retina is in many ways an extension of the brain, the altered blood vessels at the back of the eye offer a glimpse into the changes taking place within the brain.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease can often be misdiagnosed as its early symptoms are characteristic of other conditions. Research has shown that subtle eye tremors, an early Parkinson’s marker, could be detectable using advanced eye exam technology. One day soon, practitioners may send patients to an eye doctor to test for this and other diseases.

Your Eye Doctor’s Appointment Could Change Your Life

So the next time you visit Dr. Harold Ashcraft at Family Eyecare Center of Optometry in Westchester, Los Angeles, remember that a comprehensive eye exam can do more than determine your eyeglasses or contacts prescription. Dr. Harold Ashcraft can evaluate your eyes for existing or potential health issues, and communicate them to your primary care physician for the best possible care. By knowing that you’re at risk for a certain disease, you can take precautions early on and manage the condition as needed. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

How Smoking Affects Vision

Smoking harms nearly every system in your body — including your eyes. 

Though we are all aware of the health effects associated with smoking, such as lung cancer, heart disease, and bad teeth, few know about the negative impact it can have on our vision. 

How Smoking Impacts Eye Disease 

Smoking, especially 20 cigarettes or more daily over a long period of time, can adversely impact your vision. Cigarette smoke is made up of compounds that can damage health and have been shown to cause cerebral lesions which affect the area of the brain that processes vision.

More specifically, tobacco addiction increases the risk of developing vision-robbing diseases such as macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy. Moreover, smoke is an irritant that can cause or exacerbate dry eye syndrome. Below we’ll delve a little further into each of these conditions. 

Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Smoking

Smokers run a high risk of developing AMD, a condition that severely impairs central vision, making it difficult or impossible to read, drive, recognize faces and colors, and leads to permanent vision loss in those aged 65 or older. Fortunately, the risk can be dramatically diminished by putting an end to tobacco smoking — even if later in life. 

Cataracts and Smoking

Heavy smokers double their risk of developing cataracts, the leading cause of blindness. Cataracts are characterized by clouded, blurred or double vision, photophobia, and reduced night vision. However, cataract surgery is common and replaces the clouded lens with an artificial intraocular lens. 

Uveitis and Smoking

Uveitis, the inflammation of the eye’s central layer, is an ocular disease that can lead to blindness. This condition damages important structures of the eye, notably the iris and retina, and can lead to cataracts, glaucoma and retinal detachment. Smokers have a 2.2 times higher risk of developing uveitis than non-smokers. 

Diabetic Retinopathy and Smoking

Smoking raises one’s risk of developing diabetes by up to 40 percent thereby increasing the risk of retinopathy as well. Diabetes damages the blood vessels in the retina, causing them to leak blood into the eye, which — in severe cases — can deprive the retina of oxygen and result in blindness.

Dry Eyes and Smoking

Dry eye syndrome is a common eye condition characterized by insufficient tears to keep your eye lubricated, or the tears are not composed of the correct balance of water, lipids, and mucous to maintain proper lubrication. Common symptoms include red, itchy, and gritty eyes.

Heavy smokers, and those exposed to secondhand smoke, not only double their risk of developing dry eye but also exacerbate an existing condition, especially among the contact lens wearers.

How Secondhand Smoke Affects Eye Disease 

Secondhand smoke— which includes the smoke that emanates from the end of a cigarette as well as the smoke exhaled— is nearly as harmful to health and vision. Second-hand smoke places others’ eyesight in danger, particularly in young children and infants. Furthermore, studies indicate that women who smoke during pregnancy put the newborn baby at risk of being born with eye disease or visual impairment that could affect his or her ability to learn.

Stop Smoking Now to Save Your Vision

The good news is that giving up smoking can have an immediate effect on your health — and it’s never too late to quit! Once the habit is broken, your body will begin to repair itself to prevent vision loss. It can be challenging to quit, as it requires dedication, support, and advanced planning. Dr. Harold Ashcraft and the rest of the staff at Family Eyecare Center of Optometry in Westchester, Los Angeles care about your health and will be happy to provide any assistance or resources to help you quit smoking and improve your eye health. Keep in mind that if you smoke, quitting smoking is the most important step you can take to protect your health and vision.

If may be hard, since this habit is hard to break. But think about all of the benefits that will come to you, including better health and saving money. It will be worth all the effort you make.

 

Don’t Let Smoking Take Away Your Sight: 6 Reasons to Quit Today!

2018 is here!

It’s a new year, which means many people are signing up for gym memberships, starting new diets, and resolving to have a healthier and happier year.

Speaking of health—

Did you know that smoking negatively affects every organ of your body?

With every puff of smoke, thousands of toxic chemicals are wreaking havoc on your lungs, your heart, your skin, and yes—even your eyes!

So, what do your eyes have to lose because of smoking? A lot.

Every time you light up, you are increasing your risk of developing the following eye problems:

macular degeneration 300×2251. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

Photo from: https://allabouteyes.com/need-know-macular-degeneration/

Smokers are twice as likely to develop AMD as non-smokers (1). Macular degeneration causes loss of central vision, which may affect your ability to do simple activities like read, drive, or see people’s faces clearly. There is currently no cure for AMD, but there are treatments that can slow down its progress (2).

 

2. Cataracts

Photo from: http://healthletter.mayoclinic.com/common/images/1326/Cataract_Small.jpg

Cataracts impair vision because of a clouding of the eye’s lens. Your vision would be similar to as if you were looking through a fogged-up window. Other signs and symptoms of cataracts include seeing “halos”, light sensitivity, and difficulty with night vision (3). Smokers are two to three times more likely than non-smokers to develop cataracts. (4)

3. Dry Eye

Photo from: https://www.aao.org/image.axd?id=1c14c64c-e971-49ac-8624-d02d90475284&t=636450766679600000

Tobacco smoke aggravates symptoms of dry eye syndrome. Symptoms of dry eye include:

  • Irritation
  • Dryness
  • Feeling of something in the eye; grittiness
  • Redness
  • Stinging
  • Blurred Vision

4. Retinopathy of Prematurity

Pregnant women who smoke have a higher likelihood of giving birth prematurely. In addition to low birth weight, premature babies are more susceptible to developing a potentially blinding condition, called retinopathy of prematurity. This condition is characterized by the growth of abnormal blood vessels throughout the retina and can cause future eye problems including (5):

  • Retinal detachment
  • Crossed Eyes (Strabismus)
  • Nearsightedness (Myopia)
  • Lazy Eye (Amblyopia)
  • Glaucoma

5. Uveitis

This condition is an inflammation of the uvea, which is the middle layer of the eye. Inflammation can cause permanent tissue damage within the eye. Side effects may include light sensitivity, pain, redness, floaters, and decreased vision (6). Tobacco users are twice as likely as non-smokers to develop uveitis (7)

6. Other conditions

Smoking increases likelihood of developing certain cancers of the eye, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy.

The moment you give up smoking is the moment you start to improve your overall health. Watch below to see what changes happen inside your body once you quit smoking.

Your likelihood of developing eye diseases starts to diminish as soon as you quit.

Instead of lighting up a cigarette, let your eyes light up with all the wonderful things they can see!

For tips and support on how to quit smoking, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/index.html

Many eye conditions develop slowly and without immediate symptoms, so we encourage you to continue getting regular eye exams. Start your year off right and give us a call today to schedule your annual eye exam with Dr. Ashcraft.

 

Sources

1—Centers for Disease Control And Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/features/smoking-eyesight/

2—All About Vision. http://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/amd.htm

3–Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cataracts/symptoms-causes/syc-20353790

4—Centers for Disease Control And Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/features/smoking-eyesight/

5–National Eye Institute. https://nei.nih.gov/health/rop/rop

6—National Eye Institute. https://nei.nih.gov/health/uveitis/uveitis

7—American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/smokers

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We Are Open! COVID-19 ReOpening—Expectations
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the safety and well-being of our patients, staff and doctors is our first priority. Read Safety Protocols. Please read our safety protocols here.