A regular eye exam can detect potentially deadly conditions.

Who would have thought a glasses adjustment would turn into a lifesaving event? This happened recently to a member who simply wanted a glasses adjustment and realized they were beyond repair. Luckily, the member was squeezed in for an eye exam that day and, upon examination, it was discovered her optic nerve heads were swollen. Fortunately, this was caught early enough to prevent visually devastating consequences.

This story is one of many that I am sure fellow optometrists can relate to. A walk-in eye exam turning into a visit to the emergency room. A patient in need of their contact lenses but to their dismay they have an infiltrative ulcer.

Systemic diseases that can be found from an eye exam include rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, herpes simplex, chlamydia, herpes zoster and brain anomalies from brain bleeds, tumor and strokes.

Typically, if there is no eye disease or pathology present a patient can correct to 20/20. However, if not, it is the optometrist’s job to answer why. In the younger population, the optometrist typically screens for visually related conditions that can affect them negatively in school. A few serious disorders that are screened are:

Strabismus: Deviation disorders (eye turns) that can affect the vision permanently if not addressed by surgery or corrective wear.

Congenital glaucoma: Very rare but if left untreated causes incorrect development of the eye’s drainage system and can damage the optic nerve.

Amblyopia: Decreased vision found in one eye or both; patching therapy is indicated to prevent permanent vision damage.

Leukocoria: A white reflex is found which may be from a malignant tumor in the retina, internal bacterial infections of the retina or congenital cataracts.

Congenital cataracts: Clouding of the lens that has been present since birth; may require surgery if serious enough.

The main diseases that are ruled out by an eye exam in the adult and elderly population are:

Diabetic retinopathy: High blood sugar levels can cause blood vessels in the retina to swell and leak. It is of utmost importance to ensure that all diabetic patients, whether “controlled” or not, are getting yearly DILATED eye exams.

Glaucoma: This disease, usually caused by excess fluid in front of the eye and a subsequent increase in eye pressure, causes peripheral loss of vision and then eventually causes central vision loss late in the disease.

Age-related macular degeneration: Usually a degeneration that affects elder Caucasian individuals. It causes a gradual loss of central vision and needs to be monitored closely.

Hypertensive retinopathy: High blood pressure may cause a thickening of the small arteries, blockages of retinal blood vessels and bleeding in severe cases.

Cataracts: Typically age-related clouding of the lens; long-term steroid use and trauma may also contribute to this condition.

It’s important for patients to pay attention to their bodies and schedule these regular exams.