Our bodies are vastly interconnected. Probably more so than you realize. This week we will explore how a comprehensive eye exam which examines the retina could help diagnose non-eye related problems like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and even diabetes? Keep on reading to find out more!
“The eyes are really the windows to your soul, or in this case your overall health.”
What Is The Retina & Where Is It Located?
The retina is located in the back of the eye. It is a crucial part of the eye in that it helps communicate to the brain. So how exactly does this happen? Well, the retina can be thought of as being similar to a camera. Just like a camera captures an image, so too does the retina. Our eyes amazingly interpret images through light rays. Light rays enter the cornea, through the iris opening called a pupil. The lens of the eye then focuses this light onto a specific part of the retina. This is achieved through something called photoreceptors, which convert the light rays into electrical impulses. These travel down the optic nerve and into the brain, where finally the signals are interpreted by the brain as an image. Pretty neat!
What Should A Normal Healthy Retina Look Like?
In order to visually assess your retina’s health, your eye doctor will utilize a number of different tests and or machines, which include digital retinal imaging, optical coherence tomography (OCT), and or a binocular fundus exam. Let’s focus on the digital retinal imaging portion as this will give our readers the best visual of how a healthy retina should appear.
At Inner Harbour Optometry, we are pleased to offer advanced care to our patients through digital retinal imaging. During your appointment, you will be asked to look into a medical device which will flash. In order to capture a clear picture, in some cases, patients will require dilation drops. Having digital retinal imaging performed at your appointment allows for a much greater degree of assessment. It also is kept in your file database and allows your eye doctor to track changes over a period of time. This is important as it can help identify problem areas.
A normal healthy retina should appear as below. There is a nice red hue with no signs of bleeding. A distinct macula is visible (which is the darker shadow in the center of the image). No chalky white appearance or swelling of the optic nerve (which is the lighter donut shaped portion of the image) and also no signs of thinning. The image shows distinct veins, with no impingement.
Overall Health Issues Your Retina Can Help Identify
Now that we know visually how a healthy retina should appear, let’s go on to discuss some of the things your eye doctor can diagnose if your retina does not look normal.
Diabetes: depending on the severity there may be multiple areas of bleeding and yellow exudates (which is a sign of leaky blood vessels).
High Cholesterol: plaques may be visible in small arteries in the retina, which is a sign that the carotid artery might be clogged.
High Blood Pressure: the small arteries in the retina become very narrow and tortuous. Additionally, arteries that overlap veins can become hardened and can cause the veins to become blocked, which prevents proper blood flow in the eye.
Other such diseases or health issues your eye exam can identify include cancer, brain tumors, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and even autoimmune diseases.
Don’t Skip Your Regular Eye Exam, It Could Cost You
Many people opt to skip or entirely ignore seeing their optometrist for their regular eye check-up. Instead only coming to see their eye doctor when an issue arises. Doing so can leave you susceptible to a whole host of problems, including irreversible eye diseases. When it comes to your eye health it is vital that a proactive approach is taken, this means going to your comprehensive eye exam regularly. This can help your optometrist ensure not only are you seeing clearly but also ensure there are no eye health issues as well as non-eye-related issues that need to be addressed or looked at more closely. Your eyes are irreplaceable, that means skipping out on an eye exam could cost you your sight, which just isn’t worth it!
We are Victoria, BC’s local family eye care centre.