Reporting Dr. Maria Simbra
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — What can you tell by looking at someone’s eyes?
Passers-by offered these comments:
“You can tell if they’re sensual or if they’re serious or mean.”
“Maybe how sincere they are.”
“If they’re energetic, that shows.”
“If they’re honest, and how genuine they are.”
They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, but for doctors, they can actually be windows for something else: your health.
Your doctor can tell a lot about you just by taking a peep.
“We’re able to save some lives by looking in people’s eyes. It doesn’t happen every day, but it’s a rewarding experience when it happens,” says Dr. Kevin Clark, an ophthalmologist in Sewickley.
High Blood Pressure
For example, you might have high blood pressure and not even know it. But one look at the vessels inside the back of your eye and your doctor can know.
“What we call a copper wire reflex of light,” Dr. Clark said. “The arteries take on a copper appearance rather than the normal red. And then where the arteries cross the veins, the arteries will pinch the veins off because of the high pressure in those arteries.”
If it’s bad enough, your doctor may even see strokes or bleeding in the back of the eye.
“And we check their blood pressure and it’s 250/125,” Dr. Clark said.
Much higher than the normal 120/70.
Another health problem your eyes can signal is diabetes. If you have it, tiny blood vessels in your eye can bulge. And you can have a type of cataract — or a clouding of the lens — seen specifically with diabetes.
For instance, a patient in her 30s came in with very mild cataracts, only to return two weeks later barely able to see anything.
“And I said, ‘Your cataracts have gotten worse in the last two weeks. What’s going on with this? Let me send you for blood sugar.’ And sure enough, she turned out to be a diabetic, newly diagnosed,” Dr. Clark describes.
If your thyroid isn’t working properly, this time it’s your eye-lids that can take on a certain appearance.
“If a person has too much thyroid in their bloodstream, that will make their eyes sort of bulge, and make their eyelids look like they have a stare,” Dr. Clark said. “If a person has too little thyroid hormone in their system, their eyes may become a little swollen and droopy.”
And we all know allergies can cause red, itchy, watery eyes. This is generally treated with over-the-counter allergy remedies, but in some cases chronic allergies can lead to serious problems.
“Some patients with a chronic problem can develop corneal ulcers, scarring on their cornea, and some can even develop a cataract,” explains Dr. Clark.
Sometimes eye problems can reveal even bigger surprises. For example, a man had a temporary black out in one eye. His doctor performed an ultrasound of the large blood vessel in his neck to make sure it wasn’t blocked by build-up inside, and just listen to what he found out.
“There was a lot of compression from his surrounding lymph nodes, and what we found what was causing the compression was metastatic lung cancer to his neck,” Dr. Clark said. “So we were able to diagnose lung cancer on the basis that he had a blackout in his eye.”
The eye exam can tell a lot about your health, but not everything and not in all cases.
We never want to rely on just an ophthalmologist’s examination,” says Dr. Clark. “Just because we don’t see a condition in your eyes doesn’t mean you don’t have the condition.”