Who doesn’t know the proverb “The eyes are the window to the soul”? This may or may not be true, but did you know that your eyes are actually the “window” to your overall health? Changes in your eyes can signal vision problems and diabetes, stress, and numerous other conditions. The eyes can reflect everything from liver health to cholesterol levels in some way.
While it’s always a good idea to see a doctor, you can see some of these for yourself. Many conditions cause symptoms throughout the body — some show up in the skin, others in the mouth, and some even in fingernails — but the eye is one spot that reveals a particularly large percentage of health issues. That’s why eye doctors (ophthalmologists) are among the first to spot certain problems. Consider that a study of 120,000 patients by the insurance company VSP Vision Care found that an eye exam was the first indicator of 34% of diabetes cases, 39% of high blood pressure cases, and a shocking 62% of cases of high cholesterol.
So let’s take a closer look of what your eyes can reveal to know where it’s time to see a doctor.
8. Red Spots
Lots of people have diabetes without even knowing. But the disease often causes telltale changes in the retina that can be picked up by an ophthalmologist. Red spots, caused by dots of blood in the eye, can be a sign of diabetes. This happens if blood sugar builds up too high, as blood vessels begin to get blocked and swell up. This can burst the tiny blood vessels in the retina, causing bleeding.
7. Blurred Vision
Blurred vision usually means you need to wear glasses, but in other cases, it can be caused by far more serious illness like diabetes or glaucoma. In fact, an August 2014 study found that 73 percent of diabetic patients sampled reported blurred vision. Also, individuals with glaucoma sometimes experience blurriness or tunnel vision as a symptom of this condition. If blurry vision occurs over time, it could simply point to problems with a person’s eyesight. On the other hand, an abrupt and dramatic loss of vision may be a sign of a problem with the blood flow to your eye or your brain, so it is a strong indicator of a stroke.
The sudden appearance of flashing lights, blind spots, or zigzag lines can be signs of a bad headache on the way. According to the National Headache Foundation, these visual disturbances, known as auras, affect around 20% of migraine headache sufferers. In general, auras only affect one side of the person’s vision, and they last about an hour or less, as explained by the American Migraine Foundation. Medical science has not yet explained the aura, but the zigzag patterns are common to aura sufferers, even if the explanation is still unknown. Sudden specks or flashes of light can also be a sign of a torn retina. That’s especially true if the flashes or spots are accompanied by a shadow or loss of peripheral vision, which very likely indicates a detached retina.
5. Ring Around Your Cornea
This condition, called corneal arcus, causes a gray-white line of fat deposits to grow on the outside edge of your cornea. Sometimes, the deposits make a complete ring. While this particular color change is most commonly a sign of aging, if you’re under 40, it could be a sign of dangerously high cholesterol and/or triglycerides, which might mean an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. So in any case, if you notice these white rings, it’s time to go for a check-up.
4. Droopy Eyelids
While for many people it’s just a sign of fatigue, if you have one or both eyelids drooping toward the pupil, it can be a symptom of myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune neuromuscular disease which makes your immune system attack and weaken your muscles. It affects your eye, face, and throat muscles more than others and can make it difficult to chew, swallow, or even speak. It’s a potentially deadly disease which requires medical treatment. In some cases, surgery is necessary to remove the thymus gland.
3. Yellowed Whites of Your Eyes
If you notice that the white part of your eyes appears yellowish and your skin, there is no doubt that something is definitely wrong. In fact, you might have jaundice, a condition that occurs when there’s too much bilirubin — a yellow compound formed by the breakdown of red blood cells — in your blood. If your liver can’t filter the cells, bilirubin builds up and can cause your eyes and skin to turn yellow. Most of the time it’s due to infection, hepatitis, chronic alcohol abuse, liver diseases, or something blocking your bile ducts like gallstones or cancer.
2. Eye Twitches
It’s definitely more annoying than anything else, but it’s a sign that may be too stressed. These are extremely common, and they usually go away on their own. They can be associated with alcohol, fatigue, caffeine, or smoking. In sporadic cases, they can be a sign of a problem with your nervous system, like multiple sclerosis. But if the twitches are linked to MS or another problem with your nervous system, you would have other symptoms like difficulty walking, talking, and going to the bathroom.
1. Dry Eyes
If your eyes are very dry and the skin around them is looking a little worn, you might be unconsciously rubbing your eyes too often. Dr. Natasha Herz, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, explains that “rubbing your eye hard or often can cause your eyelid to become looser, more relaxed and even saggy. If the eyelid sags away from the eye, it not only causes wrinkles but also allows increased exposure to air and can make the eye overly dry.”
One of the most common reasons for dry eyes is seasonal allergies. It might seem like a contradiction, but dry eyes can also cause tearing up. “It’s the eye’s response as it tries to make up for being too dry,” says Herz. So if it’s not because of allergies, you probably spend too much time in front of a screen, computer, TV, cell phone, etc.
In any case, many diseases that cause symptoms in the eye should convince people that an annual eye exam is necessary and worth it, especially if you are over 40. Changes in the eye and body mean that an ophthalmologist has important conditions to monitor, even if your vision is stable.Related: Eye Floaters: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment