At Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons, our focus has always been on the health of our patients’ eyes, but we also understand that all of the systems of the body are interconnected, and so what affects one part of the body can often have a serious impact on the eyes as well. In fact, because they eyes are such sensitive organs vision loss can be one of the first symptoms of many different diseases. Here are some of the more common health conditions that can have an adverse effect on your eyes.
Herpes zoster, commonly known as shingles, is a form of the chicken pox virus that can lay dormant in the nerve cells for decades, until it re-emerges as a new, and much more painful, form of the rash. Most people know that shingles causes red patches and blistering of the skin, along with an itching and burning sensation as the virus travels through the nervous system, but many are unaware that when herpes zoster appears on the face it can affect the nerves in the eye, causing moderate to severe vision-impairing eye problems like conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, glaucoma, or retinitis. Shingles can potentially be contagious to those who are naturally susceptible, but can usually be treated very effectively with anti-viral medication. Catching the disease early and beginning treatment within the first three days after the appearance of symptoms is the best way to avoid permanent eye damage or vision loss.
Those suffering from untreated diabetes have chronically high blood sugar levels, and this excess sugar in the blood can, over time, gradually wear away at the walls of the blood vessels. In the tiny, delicate vessels that nourish the cells of the retina at the back of the eye, thinning walls allow blood and fluid to leak into the space between the lens and the retina, forming clots that appear as dark “floating” spots that obscure vision. Although this condition, called diabetic retinopathy, cannot be cured, controlling diabetes through proper diet and exercise can slow the onset and worsening of the symptoms and so prevent significant vision loss.
The sclera, or white portion of the eye, and the cornea, the clear outer coating over the lens, are both composed almost exclusively of collagen, the main component of connective tissue throughout the body. Various forms of arthritis, and related autoimmune conditions that cause inflammation, primarily affect collagen, and so can have a detrimental effect on your vision. Those suffering from arthritis frequently also suffer from conditions like Sjögren’s syndrome, which impairs tear production and causes dry eye, or scleritis, which weakens the eye wall making it more susceptible to trauma. Finally, they are also often more susceptible to glaucoma, one of the most common causes of vision loss.
In all of these cases, correctly diagnosing the symptoms early and treating the condition before it has an opportunity to cause long-term or even permanent eye damage is usually the best way to prevent serious vision loss. This is one of the reasons why the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends that all men and women undergo a comprehensive medical eye exam at least once between the ages of 20 and 29, at least twice between the ages of 30 and 39, and a baseline eye disease screening at age 40, the time when early signs of disease and changes in vision may start to occur. Based on the results of this baseline screening, Dr. William Segal or Dr. Marc Lay will be able to prescribe the necessary intervals for follow-up exams, but seniors age 65 and over should have comprehensive medical eye exams every one to two years to check for cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and other eye conditions. If you have further concerns about your eye health, or would like to schedule an appointment for a comprehensive medical exam, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons today to make an appointment. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more tips for healthy eyes.