Looking beyond the soul – how regular eye exams can provide a glimpse into our overall health and wellbeing

Looking beyond the soul - how regular eye exams can provide a glimpse into our overall health and wellbeing

The eyes may well be the window to the soul but what you might not realise is that they can also provide a detailed glimpse into our overall health, offering a little-known avenue to catching several medical conditions before other symptoms have even appeared.

“Anatomically speaking, the eye has two incredibly unique properties; firstly, the retina is the only place in the body where your blood vessels can be seen clearly without surrounding tissue getting in the way and secondly, 40% of nerve fibres connected to the brain are linked to your retina so early changes to your eye health and vision can be indicative of other broader health issues going on ," said Sophie Koh, optometrist and National Professional Services Advisor at Optometry Australia.

Here are six things your eyes can reveal about your health: 


In some cases, your optometrist may be the first to spot the early signs of diabetes. 

"Diabetic retinopathy affects the capillaries in the retina and initially appears as specks of blood in the back of the eye, which can be picked up during routine eye examinations.”

Because more drastic vision changes related to diabetes are not necessarily noticeable until the condition is in its more advanced stages, the importance of having a full eye exam every two years cannot be overstated. 

High cholesterol levels 

Changes in the cornea's appearance can signify that there might be a concerning increase in cholesterol levels going on. 

“If a white, blue or grey ring is seen around the iris it can mean there is a buildup of cholesterol happening in the bloodstream. This can show up even in your 30s and 40s. Your optometrist may recommend further tests to assess the cholesterol levels in your blood.”

As high cholesterol can be a precursor to life-threatening conditions like stroke, its presence should be taken extremely seriously. 


If your optometrist finds microscopic blood clots in the back of your eye it may suggest blood vessel damage due to high blood pressure. 

“Blockages or clots in the retina can be the first sign that a person is at elevated risk of suffering from stroke. If the patient is experiencing sudden loss of side vision, this can also be a warning sign that brain damage has occurred.”

With close to 30,000 people suffering from stroke each year in Australia, it remains one of the leading causes of adult disability and death per annum. 

Thyroid disease 

Statistics show that well over 1 million Australians are living with an undiagnosed thyroid disorder. 

“Associated with an autoimmune disorder called Graves’ disease, hyperthyroidism cannot just make your eyes red and itchy, in more serious cases it can cause swelling of ocular muscles which makes the eyeballs bulge and cause double vision.”

This is known as ocular protrusion, which in the case of Graves' disease can also coincide with dry eye, blurry vision or seeing double. 

Multiple sclerosis 

Affecting the entire nervous system, Multiple sclerosis (MS) can cause a condition called optic neuritis, which sees the swelling of the optic nerve and an onset of blurry vision; for almost 25 percent of people with MS, this is the first noticeable symptom experienced. 

“Swelling of your optic nerve can be the first sign of MS. The sheath that covers the optic nerve, called myelin, swells and hence damages the optic nerve and hence impairs the visual information to your brain.


It might come as a surprise, but the eyes may be the first place to show indications of cancer regardless of where the cancer is occurring. 

"During a routine eye examination, your optometrist may be able to detect early signs of various cancers, including brain tumours, melanoma, leukemia and lymphoma. Swelling of the optic nerve, bloody retinas and new or irregular looking moles at front and the back of your eye can ring alarm bells that something serious might be going on.

This is one of the reasons why it’s important for children and young people to have an eye exam, even if they don’t complain of vision issues. Your optometrist may be the first person to pick this up, during a routine eye exam.”

While it is important to remember that experiencing any of the above symptoms does not guarantee the existence of a particular condition, we recommend having a complete eye examination every two years to be sure any early signs of serious disease are identified. 

You can use our Find an Optometrist search tool to locate your nearest optometrist and book an appointment today. 

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