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The Eyes Have It - Secrets Your Eyes Reveal

by Leoni Joubert

It has often been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. This has never been more true than where general health is concerned, as your eyes reveal a myriad of secrets about your health that you might not know about.

Being the nurturers, caregivers and oftentimes also the providers of the family, women oftentimes neglect their own health and well-being in favor of their family’s needs. This also occurs as far as eye-care is concerned. It is vitally important to have a visual examination once a year, especially if you already have a visual problem or any underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid abnormalities etc.

That being said a routine eye exam can also help uncover other health issues you might not be aware of.

Did you know that your eyes can show whether you have diabetes, high-blood pressure, thyroid dysfunction, a brain tumor and a host of other secrets your body might be hiding? This is not done using some form of “alternative diagnosis” like iridology but using high tech equipment and proven scientific methods employed by all well educated eye care professionals like optometrists and ophthalmologists who are trained to pick up these medical conditions.

Here are a few tips on things to look out for with regards to your eyes and vision that might indicate further assessment is required:

1. Fluctuating Vision or blurry vision: Has it ever happened that your vision is fine one day and then terrible the next? Or that all of a sudden you cannot see well in the distance anymore whereas before you could spot a pair of Manolo Blahniks from across the room? If you have other symptoms such as severe thirst, frequent urination, tiredness, and weight loss you might well have diabetes. Have it checked immediately as delaying treatment can have serious consequences. On the topic of diabetes, it is one of the fastest growing diseases among women in South Africa. If you already have diabetes is it vital to have a visual examination annually to check for any changes to the retina (the back neural layer of the eye) as this can lead to permanent visual loss if not picked up early. As an aside, the eyes serve as a mirror of the other organs that are affected by diabetes such as the kidneys due to the fact that any changes seen to the eyes usually indicate changes happening elsewhere as well.

Blurry vision can also obviously indicate that there is something amiss such as short or far-sightedness, astigmatism, cataracts, infection, inflammation, or a host of other ocular issues. Always have it investigated, don’t wait to see if it will go away (it seldom does and delaying treatment can cause permanent damage in some cases).

Most people over 40 years old will also start to have difficulty when reading. This is called presbyopia and reading spectacles will be required due to the lens inside our eyes not being able to change focus anymore. It is a natural phenomenon, there is no cure as it is due to the lens inside our eyes hardening and a properly prescribed pair of reading spectacles will solve the problem. It is always better to have an individually prescribed pair of reading spectacles as our two eyes are seldom exactly the same and cheap readers can induce eyestrain.

2. Floaters or sudden flashes of bright light: Most of us have a few “floaters” in our eyes. These are those irritating little specs we can usually see when looking up into the clear blue sky. They tend to become more numerous with age but if they are accompanied by seeing sudden flashes of bright light when there are no lights around, it could indicate a retinal detachment. This occurs when the sensitive neural layer at the back of the eye comes loose and is very dangerous as vision can be permanently lost if it is not addressed immediately. If you ever notice any of the above signs contact your eye-care professional urgently.

3. Double vision: Any onset of sudden double vision is an emergency. This is especially important following any trauma or surgery. Do not confuse double vision with blurry vision. If you are seeing two images (whether they are clear or not) it usually indicates a problem. Double vision can be due to many factors including but not limited to brain tumor, stroke, nerve damage, eye muscle damage, Myasthenia Gravis etc. Have it assessed immediately.

4. Ocular pain, redness or discharge: These symptoms could indicate anything from an infection to Glaucoma (a condition where there is increased pressure in the eye damaging the optic nerve leading to permanent vision impairment. It can also be completely painless). Dry eyes are more common in women especially after menopause and could lead to red, gritty, painful eyes.

The following conditions are found more commonly in women and have some very specific ocular signs which can indicate underlying problems:
1. Multiple Sclerosis: blurry vision, pain of the eye (especially on movement), double vision, inability to move the eyes, jumping of the eyes (nystagmus).
2. Myasthenia Gravis: drooping of the eyelids and double vision especially at the end of the day or following exercise.
3. Rheumatoid Arthritis: red painful eyes (scleritis)
4. Thyroid disease: double vision, dry eyes, protruding (bulging) eyes
5. Menopause: red, dry, gritty feeling eyes

So ladies, remember to look after your eyes (they are the only pair you have!), get a visual exam annually and don’t despair if you need some spectacles as they have become a fantastic fashion accessory which can enhance your wardrobe. Your face is a work of art and deserves a fabulous frame!

Leoni Joubert (B.Optom; MPhil (Optom) RAU; MBCO (UK); CAS (NECO USA); CAS (PEDS AND BV NECO – USA); FOA(SA))
Optometrist/Contact Lens Practitioner: Southdale Centre (011 680-3400)

Born to Shine Magazine - Edition 10 (December 2014 - March 2015)