Your eyes may be the windows to your soul, but perhaps more importantly, they’re mirrors offering clear reflections of nearly every organ system in the human body. In fact, an ophthalmic exam can help diagnose more than two dozen types of systemic health disorders, from hematologic and lymphatic diseases to medication side effects to genetic syndromes.
Researchers across the globe are discovering new and novel ways in which systemic disorders affect the eyes, making early diagnosis and sometimes life-saving intervention far more likely.
In Northern Ireland, for example, at Queen’s University Belfast School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Senior Lecturer Dr. Gareth McKay and his associates have demonstrated that simple retinal photography, without even dilating the pupils, can reveal chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and identify risk for future heart attacks and strokes.
A few hundred miles to the east, at the University of Bonn, Germany, Department of Ophthalmology, Dr. Johannes Birtel, MD, MBA, is working with a team to identify ocular changes that signal a genetic kidney disorder called primary hyperoxaluria type 1 (PH1), which can cause kidney stones, and if left untreated, renal failure and death. While adults, who can articulate other symptoms, eyes don’t seem to show any ocular sign of the disease, the eyes of infants, who can’t tell you how they’re feeling, reveal symptoms that are detectable and severe.
On the other side of the globe, in India, Dr. B. Manjula M.S. , and Dr. Bitragunta Chandrasekhar M.S, both assistant professors of ophthalmology at Guntur Medical college, are looking at the connections between common ophthalmic conditions, such as dry eyes, blepharitis, conjunctivitis, and uveitis, with psoriasis, a condition commonly associated with dermatologic symptoms.
And in the United States, Rohan Bir Singh, MD, at Harvard Medical School, Department of Ophthalmology, recently co-authored a review comprehensively discussing the spectrum of cardiac and vascular diseases that present ocular manifestations, including, among others, congenital cardiac defects; untreated infective endocarditis, a bacterial infection in the heart’s lining; giant cell arteritis, an inflammation of the arterial lining; myxomas, benign connective tissue tumors; and coronary artery disease.
In brief, eye exams can do more than help preserve your vision; they can actually save your life.