There’s no question annual eye exams are critical for vision and eye health, but their benefits go well beyond ocular health. A routine exam is not only an “early detection” strategy for eye health, but overall health as well.
Research shows that a regular eye exam can identify a number of medical conditions, often you even knows you have the disease. In fact, one study found that a routine eye exam found signs of chronic disease long before any other health professional had noted the condition.1 Specifically, they found signs of high cholesterol 65 percent of the time, high blood pressure 30 percent of the time, and diabetes 20 percent of the time.1
In other words, you can learn a lot about your health from a routine eye exam before there are symptoms of bodily damage. Talk about preventative care.
The secret lies in the exam itself. When an eye doctor performs an exam, they not only test visual acuity, eye movement, and side vision, but they also check eye pressure, the topography of the eye, and your retina, optic nerve, and the back of your eye.
In fact, an eye examination is the only non-invasive means by which an ophthalmologist or optometrist can actually see your blood vessels and note any characteristic changes of damage to the retinal blood vessels that reflect system-wide abnormalities affecting the brain, heart, and more.
One such indicator can signal Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, a 2018 study found that eye doctors can detect small alterations in retinal blood vessels that are known to be a biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease years before it begins to affect memory.2
And on the heart front, research shows that many people first learn of their risk for hypertension from their eye doctor rather than their cardiologist. According to one study, in a single optometric practice alone, 21 percent of patients tested were found to have high blood pressure.3 Of these, two-thirds (66.7 percent) had no idea they had elevated levels.
Lastly, eye doctors often detect signs of diabetes during an exam. This is most often due to leakages in the small capillaries in the retina, which often indicates diabetic retinopathy.
Even if diabetes has not been diagnosed, those telltale leakages are a sure sign that the patient has the disease. In fact, 20 percent of people first learn that they are diabetic as a result of an eye exam.1
As you can see, routine eye exams not only protect you from devastating eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration, but can also detect diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and heart disease years before symptoms even appear. Given this, there’s little doubt that everyone age 50 and older should be making routine eye exams a part of their routine, preventative, screening checkups.
- Schaneman J, et al. The role of comprehensive eye exams in the early detection of diabets and other chronic diseases in an employed population. Popul Health Manag. 2010 Aug;13(4):195-9.
- O’Bryhim BE, et al. Association of preclinical Alzheimer disease with optical coherence tomographic angiography findings. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2018 Aug 23. [Epub ahead of print.]
- AlAnazi SA, et al. Effectiveness of in-office blood pressure measurement by eye care practitioners in early detection and management of hypertension. Int J Ophthalmol. 2015;8(3):612-21.