It is often said that the eyes are the window to the soul. But do you know they are also a window to your health?

It’s true. An eye exam can uncover many issues you may not even be aware of. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about half the cases of low vision and blindness could be prevented through early diagnosis and treatment.

Take a look at these numbers:

  • More than 3.4 million Americans 40 years old and older are blind or have low vision.
  • 80 million Americans have diseases that could cause blindness.
  • People with vision loss are more likely to have diabetes, mental decline and to die early.

Eye Exams Are Important to Overall Health

In addition to finding vision problems that may not show early symptoms, there are several serious health problems unrelated to vision that can be detected by changes in your eyes.

The doctor may spot signs of a blood vessel problem called diabetic retinopathy, even before a diabetes diagnosis has been made. Or the doctor may see damaged blood vessels from high blood pressure, which has very few symptoms and is dangerous when not treated.

Other health problems that can be detected include high cholesterol, cancer, tumors and aneurisms, thyroid disease, and autoimmune diseases like Lupus.

How can an eye exam show all that? The eyes are the only part of the body where doctors can see nerves and blood vessels without an invasive procedure.

Changes in the blood vessels and nerves in the eye can show early signs of disease. These changes can also show signs of damage in other parts of the body, like the heart and kidneys. And they can indicate a high risk for stroke or heart attack.

These signs can often be seen in the eyes before other symptoms are noticeable. That means you can catch problems earlier when less damage has been done and they’re easier to treat.

You’ll need a comprehensive eye exam with dilation to catch these problems, not just a vision screening.

Where Do You Begin?

Make an appointment with an optometrist or ophthalmologist. You will get several tests for different areas of vision, such as depth and movement.

You should also have your eyes dilated with special drops that make your pupils large. Your doctor will peer inside with a light to see the whole eye to check for signs of disease.

How Often Should You Have an Exam?

Children should have a full eye exam before entering school — earlier if recommended by their pediatrician.

If you have diabetes, you should get a dilated eye exam every year by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

The CDC recommends a dilated eye exam every two years for:

  • African Americans who are 40 and older
  • Everyone older than age 60
  • People with a family history of glaucoma

If you don’t fall into any of these categories, ask your optometrist or ophthalmologist how often you should have an eye exam.

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The bottom line.

Don’t skip your eye exams, even if you don’t have symptoms of a vision problem. They’re a fast, easy way to help protect your vision and your overall health.