You have probably heard the saying that "your eyes are the windows to your soul," but have you ever stopped to think about how much your eyes can tell about your physical health? Before I worked in eye care I assumed, as many of you probably do, that eye exams were only for people who couldn't see well and needed glasses. I went to the eye doctor when I needed a new prescription for glasses or contact lenses and didn't realize that while he was having me look through lenses and shining lights at me he was actually learning about much more than just how well I could see.

One of the many amazing things about your eyes is that they are the only part of your body where your blood vessels can be seen and examined without any invasive procedures. Because of this there are many important things that can be learned about your overall health by having a dilated eye exam. When your ophthalmologist or optometrist looks into the back of your eyes he can see signs of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and some types of stroke. Not only is this information important in treating known health problems, but many times your eye doctor is the first one to notice signs of a condition that needs treatment.

An observant doctor can even prevent some serious medical problems if you have a thorough eye exam. I can think of a number of patients who have told me stories of coming in to our practice for a routine appointment and being advised that they needed to go right away to get an ultrasound of their carotid arteries. Several of these patients have related to me how they received instructions afterward that they needed immediate surgery to clear a very significant blockage and avoid a serious stroke.

I also know numerous patients who did not realize that they had diabetes until one of our doctors saw signs of it in their eyes and recommended lab work to test for it.

Often multiple sclerosis is first diagnosed after experiencing visual trouble and having a thorough eye exam. With most medical conditions like these, the sooner you receive a diagnosis and begin treatment the better your chances of living a healthy and happy life.

Now some of you may be thinking, "Well, I am young and healthy and have none of those kinds of problems, and I can see just fine. I guess eye exams are not important for me yet." Many people believe this as I once did.

However, there are also serious eye problems that can be found early and controlled well if you have regular examinations. Many of us have heard of glaucoma, and in most cases a person cannot tell that they have it until it is much too late to control the damage that it causes. Only an eye doctor can tell if you have the beginning stages of this and start treatment to keep you seeing well for a long time. Another common eye disease is macular degeneration, and your eye doctor can recommend lifestyle changes to slow down its progression if he sees any sign of it. Both of these conditions can be passed down through your relatives, so it is even more important to have your eyes checked if other family members have them.

This brings me to the final reason eye exams are important - to see as well as you can now. I can recall how amazed I was when I got my first glasses in third grade and saw the world clearly for the first time. I never knew what I was missing. How would I when I had never seen any differently? Seeing well is important even for young children, and as parents it is our job to make sure that they are given this opportunity. Good vision in school will make learning easier and help them for the rest of their lives. Some children need glasses at a young age just to help their vision develop fully, and if this is not found early enough they may never see as well as they could have.

There are many reasons to have regular appointments with your eye doctor, and trouble with your vision is only one of them. Taking care of your eyes can benefit you in many ways and improve your overall quality of life, and we are fortunate to have excellent doctors here in our community whose goal is to do just that. Regular eye exams are for everyone.

Sarah Kendrick is a certified ophthalmic technician at Pacific Vision Medical Center.