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Your health at a glance

The eyes may be windows to your soul, but they are also an indicator of your general state of being

  • By Helga Jenssen-Forde | Special to GN Focus
  • Published: 00:00 July 18, 2013
  • GN Focus

  • Image Credit: Corbis
  • Under the scanner: The eyes can give away all sorts of maladies and conditions

Bloodshot and puffy eyes with dark circles often indicate that you are looking at someone who is not catching up on their beauty sleep. However, while it may well be obvious that someone has been burning the candle at both ends, the eyes can also give away all sorts of health issues that you might not even be aware of.

Three years ago, Kirsty Jones woke up with a swollen left eye. For a few days she thought it was a mosquito bite but, as time went on, the swelling worsened. She says: “My eye kept getting more and more swollen over the course of a few months. Then my other eye started swelling. My eyes were not only hugely puffy, but also looked like I was staring, as they would open extremely wide.

“I visited an ophthalmologist who diagnosed me with something called Thyroid Eye Disease. I hadn’t realised but my eyes had also begun protruding. Following blood tests, I discovered that my thyroid was in a very bad way, my antibodies were over the limit, and I had Graves’ disease. While there were lots of symptoms to the illness I passed off being a busy and stressed-out mum, it was my eyes that told me something was really wrong,” she adds.

To a patient it can seem strange that the thyroid, which is located in the neck, can affect the eyes, but it seems a dysfunction in myriad different body parts can be revealed by the eyes. So why exactly is this?

A complete unit

Dr Riani Grosskopf, General Practitioner, Cooper Health Clinic, says, “The body functions as a unit or a complete system. We often see illnesses manifest in different places. Think of diabetes — the problem lies in your pancreas, but you might be experiencing frequent skin infections. The mechanism by which the eye is involved is different for each illness.”

Dr Sharif Issa, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at Mediclinic City Hospital, says, “Common diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid and endocrine diseases, can be discovered from the eyes. Many other conditions can also affect the eyes, such as rheumatic conditions and multiple sclerosis.”

Diabetes as a cause

Diabetes, which can sometimes cause blurred vision, is particularly prevalent in the region and is therefore definitely something to look out for.

Dr Issa says, “I am very interested in diabetes as it is one of the leading causes of blindness in the working-age group.”

However, he adds, “Blindness is 100 per cent preventable. The deceptive bit is that sugar levels may be fine, but diabetics really need to check their eyes. If we catch a problem early enough, we can prevent blindness.” Other common conditions, such as high cholesterol, can also be seen in the eye area.

So although some things might well be easy to spot, take a closer look at your eyes, as you never know what they might tell you about your health.

Warning signs: Check out those eyes

 Dr Riani Grosskopf, General Practitioner, Cooper Health Clinic, says, “Apart from seeking medical advice for the common symptoms of an eye infection, redness and discharge, there are many signs that can indicate systemic illnesses. Make an appointment
with your mirror and look for the following.”
- The position of your eyes: If they are protruding from their sockets, it might be a sign of thyroid illness.
- The white of your eyes, or the sclera: If it is yellowish, have your liver checked out.
- The coloured part of your eyes, or the iris: If there is a pale ring all around it, it is worthwhile to check your cholesterol levels, especially if you are young and have a family history of high cholesterol.
- Your pupils: They should be the same size in both eyes and become smaller when you are in bright light. Also, they should be clear and black. If they look milky and pale, you might have cataracts.
- Lower eyelid: Pull down your lower eyelid. If it isn’t a bright pink in colour and really pale instead, see a doctor for possible anaemia.
“Keep in mind that these are just a few basic pointers. If you have any concerns, it is always better to be cautious when it comes to your health. So go ahead and schedule an appointment with your doctor,” adds Dr Grosskopf.
—H.J.F.

GN Focus