Eye exams can uncover larger health issues

It started as a simple eye exam for 22-year-old Caroline Umosella, who recently noticed her vision was changing. At the same time, she started experiencing what she thought were migraines.

Thinking that perhaps she just needed a pair of glasses, she visited her eye doctor hoping for a simple fix.

But what began as a routine eye exam turned into something much more serious. The nerves of her eyes appeared swollen. It was an indication of dangerously high pressure in the brain that could lead to blindness if untreated.

“If I had never gone to the doctor, I could be blind right now,” she says. “That's really scary.”

Dr. David Katz says swollen optic nerves are becoming more prevalent among young women like Umosella, but it's still unknown why.

“90 percent of the patients are these overweight young women, which is a mystery," Dr. Katz said. "Why not overweight men?”

The condition is most often detected through a routine eye exam. Without a dilated eye exam, it’s often missed. In another case, Jose Diaz went in for his annual eye exam and was shocked to find out his cholesterol had skyrocketed.

“He said you have a problem. You have high cholesterol. I can see it in your eyes,” Diaz says.

Optometrist Phillip Steiner says he's been able to detect serious health issues in patients, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, just by looking at the blood vessels in the eyes of his patients.

“As an optometrist, we're gatekeepers not only for the visual health, but in many cases, for the overall health,” Steiner says.

Doctors say even if you are feeling good and seeing clearly, there could still be serious things going on with your health that can first be detected through an eye exam.

As for Umosella, she hopes her story will help others.

“I tell everyone who has migraines - go get your eyes checked because you never know what's going on,” she says.