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Some cultures believe that an eye twitch is a sign of childbirth. Other people believe that carrots can make you see in the dark. And almost every Aussie kid was told at one point or another that crossing your eyes could make them stay like that.
Although optical professionals can’t confirm any of the above, they can help diagnose some pretty serious health conditions just by looking into your eyes.
Which is why it’s so important to have regular eye tests, regardless of whether you wear glasses or not. Eye tests are generally quick and simple, but they can detect a range of conditions from dry eye and astigmatism to more serious issues like cardiovascular disease.
We spoke with Specsavers Optometrist Karen Walsh to reveal what your eyes can say about your health.
Research shows that 75% of us don’t know that optometrists can check for signs of wider health conditions, including diabetesi, a disease that’s estimated to affect affect 1.7 million Aussies.
Karen explains, “Diabetic eye disease or diabetic retinopathy is when the blood vessels at the back of the eye are damaged, causing vision loss. When in early stages, diabetic retinopathy doesn’t usually cause any noticeable symptoms, so you may not even know you have it.”
According to Karen, 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. With regular eye tests, an optometrist can pick up on early characteristic changes, such as tiny leaks from damaged blood vessels,” says Karen.
Did you assume signs of high blood pressure could only be spotted by your GP? Well, it turns out your optometrist may also be able to spot signs of an unhealthy blood pressure.
“It’s not uncommon for someone to be informed that they may have high blood pressure during a routine eye test,” says Karen.
“When examining the retina, an optometrist 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.”
Cardiovascular disease, or heart disease is one of Australia’s biggest health problems and can lead to heart attacks and strokes, but having high cholesterol doesn’t usually come with many symptoms.
That’s where an eye test can come in handy. This condition can cause blockages in your body’s blood vessels – and because your optometrist generally checks the blood vessels in your eye during a test, they may be able to warn you of any irregularities.
“We can spot signs of cholesterol in the retinal blood vessels. These signs can also block blood vessels, which would result in short episodes of visual loss,” says Karen.
Autoimmune forms of the disease, like rheumatoid arthritis, can cause inflammation in your joints, as well as your eyes.
“Arthritis can commonly cause dry eye and occasionally it can cause more serious conditions like inflammation of the iris,” says Karen.
Some people may be aware that eye tests can detect cancers of the eye such as melanomas, but did you know that eye tests can also detect signs of brain tumours?
Karen explains, “Swelling of the optic nerves can be visible during an eye test and can indicate the possibility of a brain tumour.”
When it comes to eye health, it’s important to head to your optometrist for an eye test at least every two years and more regularly if you notice any eye problems. Check out nib's First Choice Network; it's our directory of trusted optometrists, dentists and physios who have promised they will deliver quality care and value for money.
iGalaxy Research, 2017. Commissioned by Specsavers.