Can eye exams reveal other health conditions?

Man at eye exam with Doctor

Are you curious as to what health problems an eye exam can detect? If so, then this guide is for you! This article will review what an eye test can reveal through retinal imaging, including how this information can be used to detect the early onset of Alzheimer's.


What is Retinal Imaging?

When you go in for an eye exam, your optometrists will look at your eye in various ways. Of course, they will perform the standard vision test to see if you need glasses or contacts. However, they also examine your eyes to ensure that you do not have other illnesses.

Retinal imaging allows them to take a photo of the back of your eye so that they can examine the blood vessels and other mechanisms that allow your eyes to function.

For example, they can inspect the retina - which is how we process lights and images through our eyes. Likewise, they can look at the optic disc that maintains the optic nerve to send information to the brain. Examining these images helps them identify diseases and verify the health of your eyes.

Doctors commonly use an ophthalmoscope to look in the back of your eye - it's the one with the bright light that's hard to look at! However, retinal imaging gives them a broader digital view of your retina could be so they can identify things that they would not be able to see as clearly otherwise.

This process is quick and painless, and they can look at the results right away. Another benefit of retinal imaging is that you can store the photos so your doctor can compare them to future images.

The iCare EIDON is the first TrueColor system that enhances the retinal imaging performance standards!

Eye Exams Can Detect Early Signs of Alzheimer’s

Through retinal imaging, eye exams can also detect the early signs of Alzheimer’s. Since the retina and optic nerve are directly linked to your brain, their cells can experience the same neurodegenerative diseases.

While it’s difficult for medical professionals to watch this happen in your brain, it is much easier to see in your eyes!

Early detection in Alzheimer's can make all the difference since, by the time a patient starts experiencing tremors and memory loss, it may already be too late. When examining the eyes, your optometrist can identify atrophying blood vessels or neurons that are dying prematurely - without the expensive imaging required for your brain!

Let's review three different studies that show promising results that I exams may soon be able to detect diseases like Alzheimer's:

Cedars-Sinai Retinal Exams

At Cedars-Sinai, Maya Koronoyo-Hamaui and her team have developed a technique to look at plaque in the retinal neurons of their patients. These individuals already have cognitive impairments, but the unique retinal scan that they do allow them to identify proteins that make up Alzheimer's plaques.

All the patients needed to do is consume a high level of curcumin, which allows the specific protein to glow yellow when exposed to blue light. This protein has been tied to increased plaque in the brain, memory issues, and lower scores on cognitive tests.

This type of retinal image is very affordable and is paving the way for detecting Alzheimer's early on - through your eye exam!

University of Florida Study

Another study at the University of Florida used a specialized camera attachment to take high-resolution images of the blood vessels in the eye. The goal was to identify microscopic blood vessels that were experiencing changes associated with the onset of Alzheimer's disease, such as oxygen deprivation.

For instance, the characteristics of Alzheimer's contribute to premature neuron death, and the blood vessels found in our eyes have been shown to mirror those changes as they occur in our brains.

Although vascular changes in the eye can occur with other conditions like diabetic retinopathy or a traumatic brain injury, this method presents another opportunity for optometrists to identify other health conditions during routine eye examinations.

Artificial Intelligence Imaging

The third study we wanted to include is unique in that it relies on artificial intelligence to interpret retinal images. This AI technology was able to identify patients who already had Alzheimer's disease and could group them based on the images.

Further research is still needed, but this suggests that artificial intelligence could help predict the onset of Alzheimer's before progress is too far.

Eye exams can reveal a lot about other health conditions throughout your body, and one of the most promising techniques is using retinal imaging to detect Alzheimer's. Even though more research is needed before direct links can be found, eye exams will likely be one of the first lines of defense in the future.