Eye examinations are important for everyone; they check the health of your eyes and whether you need glasses.
They can also pick up minor eye conditions (MECs) such as dry eye or infections yet, what few people know, is that a simple eye test can unearth a number of serious health conditions.
Specsavers clinical spokesman Dr Nigel Best describes some of the conditions which can be detected during an eye test.
Specific types of dementia can damage the visual system and cause visual difficulties, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Rarer forms of dementia, such as posterior cortical atrophy can also cause visual difficulties.
This Diabetes Week (11-14 June) it’s important to remember that when diabetes is in its early stages, diabetic retinopathy does not usually cause any noticeable symptoms, so you may not even know you have it.
However, an eye test can detect the condition before you notice any changes to your vision.
‘Diabetes can affect small blood vessels in the eye, damaging the retina, which is vital for sight. We can pick up on early characteristic changes, such as tiny leaks from damaged blood vessels,’ says Dr Nigel Best.
3. High blood pressure
It is not uncommon for someone to be informed that they may have high blood pressure as a result of observations made by their Optician during a routine eye test. When examining the retina, an Optician can see whether or not the blood vessels are narrowed or are leaking.
‘Patients with high blood pressure can develop a condition called hypertensive retinopathy. In this condition blood vessel walls can thicken, narrowing the vessels and restricting blood flow. In some cases, the retina becomes swollen and the blood vessels can leak,’ says Dr Nigel Best.
4. Cardiovascular disease
Having high cholesterol - which can lead to heart problems or a stroke - doesn’t usually have any symptoms. However, it can cause blockages in any of the body's blood vessels, including those in the eyes.
‘We can spot little lumps of cholesterol running through the blood vessels. These can block blood vessels resulting in short episodes of visual loss,’ says Dr Nigel Best.
Autoimmune forms of the disease, like rheumatoid arthritis, as well as causing inflammation in your joints, can also cause inflammation in your eyes.
‘This inflammation can very commonly cause dry eye, occasionally it can cause more serious conditions like inflammation of the iris,’ says Dr Nigel Best.
Some people may be aware that eye tests can detect cancers of the eye such as melanomas, but possibly don’t know that they can also detect signs of brain tumours.
Dr Nigel Best, says: ‘Swelling of the optic nerves can be visible during an eye test,and can indicate that a brain tumour is present.’