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What Diseases Can Be Detected in an Eye Exam?

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A kid in a white shirt with an eye patch on her alright eye so that her left eye with Amblyopia will be forced to see.

More Than a Sight Test

Most patients know they can count on an optometrist to help manage vision problems. But your eye doctor can also help with various eye health issues, from everyday comfort to emergency eye care.

Regular comprehensive eye exams are more than sight tests. Your routine optometry visit is crucial to eye disease diagnosis & management. So, what health and vision conditions can an eye doctor detect in an eye exam?

Eye Disorders & Diseases

Optometrists assess your entire visual system, from the development of vision skills in childhood to changing vision quality as you age. Take a closer look at some of the most common eye disorders and diseases your optometrist can detect in an eye exam.

Amblyopia

Amblyopia (lazy eye) is when vision in one eye is weaker because the brain and eye are not communicating effectively. The eye may appear normal or be caused by strabismus (crossed eyes or an eye turn). Amblyopia is the most common vision impairment in children, affecting about 2–3% of the population.

Without treatment, amblyopia can lead to permanent vision loss. 

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is a progressive condition affecting the macula. The macula is the oval-shaped center of the retina; it detects color, fine details, and central (straight-ahead) vision. Aging is the most common risk factor, which is why the disorder is often called age-related macular degeneration.

However, many factors can cause macula damage, such as:

  • Family history of AMD
  • Poor nutrition
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • UV light exposure

There are 2 forms of AMD: dry and wet. Dry is the most common, slower-developing form. Wet is the rarer, more rapidly progressing form. While both can cause symptoms, wet AMD causes more severe symptoms and requires emergency eye care.

Common symptoms of AMD include:

  • Blurry or hazy vision
  • A dark/blank spot (in central vision)
  • Distorted straight lines
  • Poor vision in low lighting
  • Retinal damage
  • Trouble recognizing faces
A senior male in a blue and white striped polo shirt with dry eyes is pouring some drops of eye solution into his right eye.

Dry Eye

Dry eye affects millions of Americans every year. The chronic condition occurs when your eyes cannot produce enough quality tears to nourish and wet the eye. While dry eyes are the most common symptom, you can also experience watery eyes.

Dry eye symptoms can include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • A scratchy or burning sensation
  • Red eyes

Over time, dry eye disease can damage the cornea and impair vision. Fortunately, there are many treatment options available to help relieve symptoms.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that cause progressive optic nerve damage. The optic nerve is a bundle of over one million nerves at the back of the eye. When the nerves are damaged, the brain stops receiving visual information, causing permanent vision loss.

Most types of glaucoma are slow-developing, with patients experiencing no symptoms in the early stages. Over time, the field of vision decreases, beginning with peripheral (side) vision.

Acute angle-closure glaucoma is an uncommon but severe form of glaucoma occurring when a sudden blockage in the eye causes a rapid buildup of eye pressure. As a result, patients can experience blurred vision, eye pain, halos around lights, and eye redness.

Although there is no cure for glaucoma, multiple treatments are available to prevent vision loss. Early diagnosis is crucial for preventing severe optic nerve damage.

Eye Health is Body Health

Many patients are aware that optometrists can help with eye problems. But you might be surprised to hear your eye doctor can diagnose many health problems, including chronic illnesses, vascular disease, inflammatory diseases, and stroke.

Comprehensive eye exams evaluate multiple types of tissue. For example, diabetes can be diagnosed when your optometrist observes changes to blood vessels in the eye. Diabetic eye exams focus on eye issues caused by diabetic eye disease, including cataracts, diabetic macular edema, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma.

Other surprising health conditions eye exams can detect include:

  • Aneurysm – A bubble in a blood vessel wall that can leak or rupture, causing headaches or loss of eye movement control.
  • Brain tumor – Pressure in the brain can affect the eye, causing double vision, swelling eye tissue, changes to the optic nerve, or loss of peripheral vision.
  • Cancer (blood, tissue, or skin) – Optometrists evaluate various eye tissue, including the eyelids and blood cells inside the eye.
  • Heart disease – Microscopic effects of heart disease can appear in the eye, including marks on the retina.
  • High blood pressure – Optometrists can observe abnormalities in blood vessels located at the back of the eye, often a symptom of high blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol – A blue or yellow ring around the cornea can indicate elevated cholesterol, particularly in adults under 40. Deposits in retinal blood vessels can also signal high cholesterol.
  • Lupus – This inflammatory disease can cause swelling in the sclera (white of the eye) and inner eye tissue or dry eye.
  • Lyme disease – Lyme disease inflammation can affect the optic nerve and cause increased floaters.
  • Multiple sclerosis – Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative disease that can cause optic nerve inflammation, blurry vision, double vision, and painful eye movement.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – RA can cause eye pain, dry eye, redness, and scleritis (painful scleral inflammation).
  • Thyroid disease – Bulging eyes, retracting eyelids, and dry eye are common symptoms of Graves’ Disease, caused by the thyroid producing too much hormone. 

Keep an Eye on Eye Health

Eye exams can help your eye care team protect and preserve your health. At Foothill Optometric Group, we provide reliable eye care for the whole family. Our practice proudly serves the Pleasanton community with decades of experience and high-tech diagnostic technology. Book your next eye exam today!

Written by Dr. Andrew Yang

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