Eyes: A Window into Health

Eyes: A Window into Health

Medically reviewed in September 2020

You take in the world with your eyes—from paint colors to the perfect autumn sky—but did you know your eyes also allow for a unique look inside your body?

It's true. Your eye doc can learn a lot about your health by looking at the blood vessels and nerves in the backs of your eyes. They can provide clues about what's going on in the rest of your body. Here are just a few examples:

A sign of blood pressure problems: If the blood vessels in your eyes look stiff, form kinks or loops, or look bronze or gray instead of the usual red color, it could be a sign of high blood pressure or diabetes. These two conditions can harm your retinas, causing fluid buildup and bleeding that changes the look of the blood vessels there.

A sign of autoimmune disease: Blocked blood vessels or inflammation of certain structures in the eyes can sometimes be signs of autoimmune disease. These problems may cause symptoms like vision problems, pain, sensitivity to light, and red, itchy eyes. But keep in mind that symptoms like these are relatively common and most often are not associated with autoimmune disease. Still, see your doctor if your eyes are uncomfortable.

A sign of infection: Doctors can't use eye symptoms alone to diagnose an infection. But sometimes, signs of viral, bacterial, or fungal infection can show up in the eyes. For example, a growth inside the vitreous could be a sign of a fungal infection. And what if the whites of your eyes (the "sclera") turn yellow? That could be a sign of a liver infection called hepatitis. Viral infections like herpes and AIDS also can cause eye symptoms.

Bottom line: If you notice unusual eye symptoms, whether it's pain or redness or any other symptom out of the ordinary for you, speak to your eye doctor. Your eyes could be trying to tell you something, and with quick care, you might be able to treat an underlying health problem before it causes major issues.

How often should you see the eye doc? Read this article to find out.

More On Eye and Vision

Sunglasses as Important as Sunscreen for Kids

article

Sunglasses as Important as Sunscreen for Kids
Perhaps you’re quick to make sure your kids wear sunglasses when you hit the beach or the pool. But do you take the same precaution when they’re just ...
Eye Exam Information: What to Expect

article

Eye Exam Information: What to Expect
Of all your senses—sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing—eyesight is arguably your most important, helping you not only appreciate a beautiful sunse...
What Good Hygiene Practices Can Help Prevent Eye Diseases?

video

What Good Hygiene Practices Can Help Prevent Eye Diseases?
Some basic lifestyle changes can benefit your eyes, as well as the rest of your body. Learn more about what you can do to prevent eye disease in this ...
Can Blindness Be Prevented?

video

Can Blindness Be Prevented?
Many different issues can cause blindness, some of which can be prevented outright. HealthMaker Steve McLeod, MD, chair of Ophthalmology at UCSF, elab...