3 Systemic Illnesses Your Optometrist Can Detect

Posted on: 20 April 2017

While many systemic illnesses present with obvious physical symptoms, other health conditions may either be asymptomatic or provide only subtle symptoms. Certain medical problems may lead to early changes in the eyes, and because of this, your optometrist may be able to detect them before they even lead to physical symptoms. Here are three systemic illnesses that may be diagnosed by an eye exam and what you can do about them once they are detected:

Liver Disease

Liver disease, including hepatitis and cirrhosis, can lead to weight loss, abdominal swelling or tenderness, pale stools, and dark urine. In addition, it can cause loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue, and back pain. During your eye examination, your optometrist may suspect that you have a liver disorder if the white part of your eye, known as the sclera, looks yellow. This condition is known as jaundice, and while can also cause yellowing of the skin and itching, jaundice often leads to eye symptoms.

If you have jaundiced eyes, visit your primary physician, who will order additional tests such as a complete blood count and chemistry profile, which will evaluate your bilirubin level. Bilirubin is a pigmented substance that can rise in the presence of liver and gallbladder disease. To help bring down bilirubin levels naturally,  drink plenty of water and spend time outdoors in natural sunlight while you are waiting for the results of your blood tests. 


Common diabetes symptoms include increased hunger and thirst, frequent urination, and changes in weight. Certain signs are not so obvious, however, and include rises in blood glucose levels, circulation problems, and changes in the eyes. Your eye doctor may suspect that you have diabetes when signs of ocular blood vessel damage is noticed.

A condition known as diabetic retinopathy causes abnormalities in the small blood vessels in and around your retina, which can cause blurred vision, and in severe cases, blindness. If your eye exam reveals diabetic retinopathy, speak with your physician about ways to manage your blood sugar levels. While existing diabetic retinopathy usually cannot be reversed, maintaining tight control over your blood glucose levels can help prevent future eye problems. 

Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, following your medication protocol, and adhering to your therapeutic diet can all help maintain healthy blood sugar levels so that further eye damage does not develop. If you have vision problems as a result of your diabetic retinopathy, a retinal specialist may be able to perform laser surgery to help improve your condition. 

Autoimmune Disorders

Autoimmune diseases can cause fatigue, muscle pain and weakness, joint deformity, dry mouth, and kidney problems. Certain autoimmune conditions such as Sjögren's syndrome can affect your salivary glands and tear ducts. Because of this, you may experience dry mouth and dry, gritty eyes. Your optometrist may notice that your eyes do not produce enough tears, and even if tear production is normal, the quality of your tears may not be adequate.

Tears are not only comprised of water, they also contain a rich source of nutrients that help maintain optimal eye health, and when these nutrients are depleted, eye pain, extreme dryness, blurred vision, and even infection can develop. If you have an autoimmune disease and experience dry, irritated eyes, using a moisturizing eye drop will help keep you comfortable. While available over-the-counter, you may require prescription drops, depending upon the extent of your condition. 

If you have any of the above health disorders and are experiencing eye problems, work with both your optometrist and primary physician to develop an appropriate treatment plan. The sooner your condition is recognized and addressed, the less likely you'll be to experience a progression in your eye abnormalities. To learn more, contact clinics like Olympia Eye Clinic, Inc., P.S.