Through retinal scanners and dilated pupil exams, eye care professionals can spot many chronic health conditions.

Eye conditions like glaucoma and macular degeneration are best treated when spotted early. But often, these conditions go undiagnosed until they appear because the instruments used to detect them are in an optometrist office, not your primary care physicians.

With a retinal scanner, this quick, painless and inexpensive scan can provide a highly detailed look at the eye, allowing for detection of a variety of retinal and health conditions macular degeneration, vitamin A deficiency, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, high cholesterol, hypertension, Crohn’s disease, Graves disease and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

The scan shows detailed images of the various structures of the retina including the optic nerve, blood vessels, nerve fiber layer and the macula. It also provides a baseline for comparison with previous and future visits, aiding in the monitoring of disease detection/ progression and response to therapy.

Many of the same results can be determined through a dilated eye exam. Drops are placed in eyes to widen the pupils, allowing eye care professionals to get a wider look at the eye in order to find damage to the optic nerve and early detection of several chronic diseases.

High blood pressure (hypertensive retinopathy) is detected through changes in retinal blood vessels. For those with high cholesterol, a white ring, known as an arcus, can form around the outer edges of the cornea. The arcus can also appear as part of the body’s natural aging process, but a person of any age can also form an arcus from high cholesterol.

Eye inflammation is a potentially severe complication that can occur in children with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The inflammation can be present at the beginning of arthritis or occur after a child develops juvenile arthritis. Commonly, the inflammation does not cause any other symptoms and is usually detected during eye exams.

Roughly 10 percent of people with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s, colitis) experience eye problems. If the bowel disease is undiagnosed in a patient, an eye exam can reveal several conditions, including: uveitis (inflammation of the middle layer of the eye wall), deposits on the edge of the cornea, dry eyes or inflammation of the outer coating of the white of the eye.

Many national health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Diabetes Association are touting the benefits of annual eye exams and the ability of optometrists to spot many chronic health conditions.

It’s important that everyone sees the advantages of an annual eye exam, for their vision and whole-body health.