Health & Safety

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Unexpected Diseases an Eye Test Can Spot

27 March 2015

The CWU Health, Safety & Environment Department is supporting a campaign launched by the "Eyecare Trust" aimed at raising awareness about the need for regular eye tests and that the eyes can also give a clear view of what's occurring in other parts of the body. In fact, an eye test could reveal a life or death situation.

traditional eye test chart

Sight and Serious Diseases

As well as detecting vision problems and eye diseases, such as glaucoma or macular degeneration, they can sometimes also reveal whether you're suffering from a number of serious health conditions. Getting an eye examination is a bit like getting a more extensive physical examination as there are a variety of eye and general health conditions that can be picked up in an eye examination that are essentially silent but highly treatable - if they're picked up early.

The Eyecare Trust is a registered charity that exists to raise awareness of all aspects of eye health and the importance of regular eyecare. The Trust's public information and awareness raising campaigns are aimed at helping ensure that eyecare is kept high on the UK public's health agenda and provide valuable advice and information.

The Eyecare Trust states that poor uptake of sight tests is probably the biggest risk to the nation's eye health. Around 20 million people in the UK fail to have their sight tested once every two years, yet a simple sight test can detect glaucoma years before a person notices lost vision, and many childhood eye conditions which can be permanently corrected if diagnosed early enough. The Eyecare Trust are conveying the message that Sight tests really are essential health checks.

Here's how a simple eye test could help detect other serious medical conditions and diseases:


Around 750,000 people in the UK have undiagnosed diabetes, according to Diabetes UK. Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes can creep up very slowly and are often dismissed as normal tiredness, or just part of growing old, but cases can be diagnosed from eye tests. High blood-sugar related to diabetes can cause problems in the small blood vessels resulting in diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to blindness. An optometrist will be able to spot early characteristic changes, such as tiny leaks from damaged blood vessels. Nowhere are the blood vessels more important than in the retina at the back of the eye and Eyecare professionals have a window to look at this, and they can spot very early signs of diabetes and the effect it has on blood vessels in the back of the eye. The message is that you don't need to go blind with diabetes as it's treatable and the key is to pick it up early. Not only that, but the sooner diabetes is detected, the sooner it can be treated or managed, meaning other potential complications - including ulcers, kidney and heart damage - can be prevented too.

High blood pressure

Effects of high blood pressure - a condition which affects one in three UK adults but is often symptomless, and is linked with stroke, heart disease and vascular dementia - can sometimes be seen inside the eye. This is because the force of blood passing through blood vessels in the retina can cause hypertensive retinopathy. Blood vessel walls may thicken, narrowing the vessels and restricting blood from reaching the retina. In some cases, it becomes swollen and its function is limited, and there may be bleeding behind the eye.

High cholesterol/Cardiovascular problems

Because of the high blood flow at the back of the eye, excessive cholesterol - which is linked to cardiovascular problems - may also be spotted there, looking like deposits in the blood vessels. Changes in the patterns of ocular veins and arteries can also be linked to cardiovascular disease and stroke. Indications of strokes and other cardiovascular problems can be seen in the eyes. The back of the eye is part of the brain, so anything that can affect the brain can affect the eye - and often they affect the eye first.

Eyecare Trust web site


Although arthritis is characterised by joint inflammation, autoimmune forms of the disease (like rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis) can affect other parts of the body including the eyes, and the inflammation it causes can be spotted in eye tests. This inflammation (uveitis) is the same kind that can attack joints. It can slowly destroy the eye too. Arthritis is another one of the diseases where eye examinations are important, as the ocular manifestations can have grave consequences if left untreated.Alzheimer's Disease

Although not available yet, it's hoped that a simple eye test could soon be used to identify the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Researchers are looking at whether warning signs can be detected using special computer software to analyse images of the eye. Researchers have reported that it will soon be possible to look into someone's eyes using an inexpensive machine and discover something which may suggest a risk of developing dementia. The research promises early warning in a non-invasive way, and the test, which will identify differences in the retinal vessels, may even be able to differentiate between different types of dementia.


The eye has a large blood supply relative to its size and for this reason, certain types of tumours can spread to the eye, as well as primary tumours developing there - although this is rare. Brain tumours can also be spotted in an eye test, sometimes through swelling of the optic nerve linked to pressure from the tumour.