Learn more about how your eyes provide insight into your health

Our eyes are more than just ‘windows to the soul.’ These two small organs can reveal a lot of information about your overall health.

Your eyes are rich with nerves, veins, and arteries, which can reflect the health of the rest of your body. Getting your eyes checked out, especially when you notice changes in your vision, can show other underlying health conditions and diseases.

This is why getting your eyes examined regularly is so important.

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Eye-Related Health Conditions

During your regular eye exam, your doctor may notice symptoms in your eyes that are directly related to eye-related conditions and diseases. Some of these conditions include:

Cataracts

Cloudy vision or glare may signal a cataract, a vision problem common with aging and exposure to sunlight. Eye injury, eye disease, and certain medicines can cause cataracts.

Often, cataracts don’t cause any vision problems. Some symptoms of cataracts can include cloudy, fuzzy, or foggy vision. You may also have trouble driving at night due to increased glare.

Sometimes, vision loss from a cataract can occur slowly, although it may never become severe.

Horner Syndrome

Droopy eyelids and different-sized pupils can be potential warning signs of a dangerous medical condition called Horner syndrome. Horner syndrome is linked to neck tumors and aneurysms and requires immediate medical attention.

Health Conditions Reflected in Our Eyes

Other health conditions present themselves in the eyes but indicate more significant health concerns. Some of these health conditions include:

Diabetes

People with diabetes may experience an eye condition called diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition resulting from prolonged high blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the retina. It is also the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes.

This condition can potentially lead to poor vision and blindness but can be treated with laser treatment, medicine, or surgery.

High Blood Pressure

A simple eye exam can help diagnose high blood pressure or hypertension. High blood pressure can be seen in distinctive kinks and twists in the retina’s tiny blood vessels.

High Cholesterol

A gray ring around your eye’s cornea (arcus senilis) or yellowish cholesterol deposits in the eyelids (xanthelasma) may indicate high cholesterol and that you’re at risk for cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease can increase your odds of having a heart attack or stroke.

HIV and AIDS

The HIV virus can cause retinopathy similar to diabetic retinopathy. Eye infections in AIDS patients are often severe and may lead to blindness. Eye doctors can sometimes detect these changes during eye exams. Early detection and treatment can help a patient maintain their vision.

Marfan syndrome

This genetic disorder affects the connectivity of tissue in people’s bodies. This includes the tissue that holds the lens of the eyes in place. People with Marfan syndrome may have a dislocated lens in their eye which can cause blurred vision.

Myasthenia gravis

Droopy eyelids and double vision can be signs of myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune condition that also causes muscle weakness.

Skin cancer

If you develop a sore on or near your eyelid and have noticed that you’re losing eyelashes, you might have a type of eyelid carcinoma or skin cancer.

This type of skin cancer requires immediate medical attention. Some aggressive forms of eyelid cancer can lead to blindness or disfigurement if left untreated.

Thyroid disease

Eyes that protrude or bulge — a condition called exophthalmos — can be a common sign of Grave’s disease, also known as an overactive thyroid gland.

Thyroid eye disease can also cause red, inflamed eyes and vision changes and accompanies symptoms such as weight loss, rapid heartbeat, and anxiety or irritability.

Early Detection

Some of these changes to your eyes can be treated and possibly prevented if detected early. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor. Make an appointment at UPMC today.

Learn more about your eye health. Visit the UPMC Vision Institute webpage for more.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Vision Institute

The UPMC Vision Institute is a national leader in the treatment of eye diseases and disorders. We seek to improve and restore your vision to help your quality of life, diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in both children and adults. Our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We also offer routine eye screenings and have full-scale optical shops. Find an eye expert close to you.