When a patient walked into the clinic complaining of mild headaches and blurred vision, Dr. Campbell conducted the same complete vision and eye health exam that he would with any other patient. However, the exam revealed an irregularity, which concerned Dr. Campbell enough to refer the patient for a full CT scan the very next day.
That scan confirmed what the doctor had originally suspected: the patient had a benign brain tumour. Treatment was swift and less than two weeks after the original appointment with his optometrist, the patient underwent surgery to have the tumour removed. Three days later, he was released from hospital.
The story demonstrates the importance of regular comprehensive eye exams for people of all ages.
“The eyes are connected to so many other systems in the human body,” says Dr. Campbell. “A number of serious and potentially fatal health conditions can be detected through a comprehensive eye exam.”
A brain tumour is just one example of what an optometrist might detect. An eye exam can also identify unusual structures within the eye and unusual growths, including a rare form of cancer called ocular melanoma. This cancer develops within the cells that make pigmentation in the eye and can be life threatening if it spreads to other parts of the body.
Skin cancer might also be detected through an examination, as lesions can show up on the eyelid and possibly spread to the brain through the eye. In fact, the eye and its surrounding tissues are among the most common areas of the body where skin cancer is first diagnosed.
Optometrists also detect hypertension, a leading cause of a heart attack, stroke and chronic heart failure, by looking at the blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye. The same is the case for diabetes, which can cause a condition in the eyes called diabetic retinopathy. Early detection of diabetic retinopathy is essential to avoiding serious damage to the eye and potential blindness.
“It is easy for people to say to themselves 'My sight is fine, what's the point of getting my eyes checked?'” Dr. Campbell points out. “But certain conditions might not have side effects right away, and catching these conditions early might be the difference between life and death.”
The doctor recommends that people between the ages of 20 and 65 see an optometrist every one to two years – and seniors, children and young adults should do so annually.
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