It’s easy enough to spot hazards when they’re glaring you in the face—massive signs, flashing lights, caution tape—but it takes an extra level of attention to detect those threats that aren’t so obvious. In this case, a serious health condition. And we’re not just talking about eye disease. Did you know that your eyes can show tons of subtle cues to tip you off to serious, underlying health conditions? It’s true. Mark Lipton, O.D., a VSP doctor from Beach Eye Care in Virginia Beach, VA, helps explain some of the red flags you should watch out for.

Caution cue: Your vision suddenly blurs or disappears
What it could mean: Stroke
What’s up, doc?: Blurry vision or blackouts are only a couple possible symptoms of a stroke. Others might be slurred speech, sudden dizziness, or abrupt numbness. Strokes occur because of a blocked or hemorrhaged artery, and their symptoms vary depending on where the affected artery is located.
What you can do: The most common causes of strokes are high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Taking measures to eliminate these causes is obviously the best way to avoid a stroke, but that often requires a significant lifestyle change. Consult your primary care physician, nutritionist, or eye doctor for advice on how to beat these stroke-related problems.
Caution cue: You’ve got irritated eyelids and gunk in your eyes
What it could mean: Blepharitis
What’s up, doc?: Blepharitis is a fancy term for eyelash follicles that are inflamed. Your skin naturally carries bacteria, but problems arise when bacteria grows faster than it should—especially around your eyes. Eyelid glands that produce too much oil are a breeding ground for blepharitis. Symptoms include crusty discharge around the eyes, swelling of the eyelids, and an itchy sensation.
What you can do: The best way to treat the symptoms of blepharitis is to keep your eyelid area as clean as possible. Using a gentle cleanser (recommended by your physician or eye doctor) will help keep the oils around the eye down to a healthy minimum. You might not be able to control how much oil your eyelids produce, but you can tame its effects.
Caution cue: The whites of your eyes are turning yellow
What it could mean: Liver problems
What’s up, doc?: When the whites of your eyes start to turn yellow, we refer to this as jaundice. The yellowing of the eyes is caused by buildup of bilirubin, which comes from the liver’s inability to process old red blood cells. While having yellowing eyes is not a direct threat to your eye health, the underlying causes are what you should worry about. Jaundice can be a sign of a number of diseases, not just liver problems.
What you can do: Jaundice and liver problems are two things that require a doctor’s attention. A visit to your eye doctor never hurts, but you will definitely want to see your primary care physician as well.
Caution cue: You’ve got patches of yellow bumps on your eyelids
What it could mean: High cholesterol
What’s up, doc?: While yellow bumps on the eyelids can be a sign of high cholesterol, it can also be a sign of other things like allergies or a reaction to old makeup. To be sure you know the correct cause, see your VSP eye doctor for a thorough exam where he/she can look at the bumps and also into your eyes where cholesterol can wreak havoc in the form of yellow, fatty deposits.
What you can do: Exercise and a change in diet are your best bets when it comes to fighting high cholesterol. Stay away from red meats, eggs, and shellfish, and eat food high in omega-3s and soluble fiber like fatty fish, whole grains, and nuts.
Caution cue: Your eyes are bulging
What it could mean: Hyperthyroidism
What’s up, doc?: Hyperthyroidism is a general condition that can have many symptoms. When your eyes bulge, this is a sign of a specific kind of hyperthyroidism called Graves’ disease. Basically, the muscles and tissues behind your eyes are swelling (due to too much thyroid hormone) and pushing your eyes forward. This can cause discomfort in many forms, but sometimes it goes unnoticed in early stages.
What you can do: The most effective way to treat hyperthyroidism is with medication prescribed by your primary care physician. Because doctors are still unsure what exactly causes Graves’ disease, it is hard to recommend any specific preventative options.

 

“The eyes are windows to what’s going on in our bodies,” says Dr. Lipton. “We hope that you’ll be wise to pick up on the cues your eyes are giving you and see your VSP eye doctor for help indentifying possible health hazards.” Your eyes can be the first line of defense in fighting some of these hidden dangers, so don’t ignore the symptoms!

The content of this article is for general informational awareness purposes only. Please consult your eyecare doctor or physician for actual advice.