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Eye health centre

This article is from the WebMD Feature Archive

What your eyes say about your health

We look at conditions that have an effect on the eyes, from colour changes to swelling.
By David Freeman
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Are the eyes “windows to the soul”, as the ancient saying has it? Perhaps, but they’re also portals through which one can glimpse signs of health problems -- not only eye disorders like cataracts and glaucoma, but also systemic illnesses like diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease. Sometimes the signs of these diseases are visible in, on or around the eyes long before symptoms appear.

The eyes are “the only place in the body where you can see a bare nerve, a bare artery, and a bare vein without doing any cutting. And the disease processes we see occurring in the eye are probably occurring in the rest of the body,” says ophthalmologist Dr Andrew Iwach.

The list of systemic diseases that can have ocular manifestations is a long one; in addition to diabetes and cardiovascular disease, it includes aneurysms, HIV, cancer and rare hereditary diseases. This list is one reason why regular eye examinations are recommended.

Adults should have an eye test at least every two years, or more frequently if advised (eg if there is a family history of eye problems). People shouldn’t wait until they experience symptoms to have their eyes examined because many eye problems are silent, meaning they cause no symptoms.

Some ocular manifestations of systemic disease can be seen only by a trained specialist during the course of an eye examination. Others are plain for all to see. Here are 10 of the most common eye signs and what they might be saying about your health:

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