Wellness & Fitness

Serious health problems gleaned from the 'windows' of our soul


It is often said that our eyes are the windows to our soul, but it is also true that our eyes are the window to our health. That explains why when you visit the doctor for many ailments, he or she often checks your eyes as part of the examination.

During an eye exam, the doctor can learn a lot about your overall health. Here are some of the eye problems that can signal serious health conditions.

Red, itchy eyes

Most people know when they get red, itchy, burning, watery eyes that they are probably allergic to something. A variety of allergens may affect the eyes such as pollen, dust mites, or cigarette smoke. An allergist can help determine the cause of allergies if you suffer from any of these symptoms.

A red eye without itching can be a sign of various systemic diseases such as: arthritis, hypertension, and autoimmune problems.

Vision loss

A sudden and drastic loss of vision may indicate that not enough blood is reaching your eyes or brain. This could be an early sign of a stroke or the start of a migraine headache. Other causes could be a brain tumor, a retinal bleed, or a retina that has separated from the back of the eye.

Blurred vision

Blurred vision can be an indication of diabetes. Diabetes retinopathy occurs when high blood sugar levels cause damage to blood vessels in the retina. Sometimes abnormal new blood vessels grow on the retina. These blood vessels can swell and leak.

Or they can close, stopping blood from passing through. This causes blurry vision and can result in vision loss. Diabetes can also make it difficult to see at night, or in dim light.

Droopy eyelid

A droopy eyelid can be caused by a stroke, an eyelid, or brain tumor, or cancer of the nerves, or muscles.

Droopy eyelids could also be a symptom of myasthenia gravis, a disease that causes the immune system to attack the muscles and weaken them. This mainly affects the eye, facial and throat muscles, making chewing, swallowing, and even speaking difficult.

Yellow eyes

When the whites in the eyes and the skin appear yellow, this could be an indication of jaundice, a liver disease.

Jaundice is caused by elevated bilirubin levels produced by the liver when it’s inflamed, or damaged. This may be a result of poor diet, cancer, infection, or prolonged alcohol misuse.

Bulging eyes

Protruding or bulging eyes can be a sign of many diseases; thyroid gland dysfunction or Grave’s disease is the most common. This is when the thyroid gland produces excessive hormones, which can cause double vision and vision loss.

With Graves’ disease, the immune system attacks the tissue around the eyes, causing them to swell and push forward, giving them a “bulging” appearance.

Orbital cellulitis is the rare combination of both eye-threatening and life-threatening emergencies.

Night Blindness

Trouble seeing in dim light or driving at night may be an indication that cataracts are developing in the eyes. Cataracts grow gradually over time, without causing any pain or significant discomfort, and are the most common cause of vision loss in adults over 45 years.

In rare cases, night blindness can be due to a vitamin A deficiency. Supplements or a diet rich in vitamin A-rich foods such as beef liver, sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, and pumpkins are generally recommended to treat the deficiency and improve night vision.

Eye twitches

Eye twitches are common, generally harmless, and typically disappear on their own. They have been linked to alcohol and caffeine consumption, fatigue, insufficient sleep, stress, and smoking.

Frequent eye twitches could be an indication of a neurological system disease, such as multiple sclerosis (MS).

Rings around the cornea

Corneal arcus is a condition that causes a gray-white line of fat deposits on the edge of the cornea which can be a sign of cardiovascular disease. These deposits can sometimes form a complete white-colored ring on the cornea.

This is of little concern for people aged 50 and above, however, in those younger than 40 years, there is a need to contact an eye doctor since the condition can signal cardiovascular disease.

Dr M’Bongo Zindamoyen is a consultant ophthalmologist and vitreo-Retinal Specialist at Aga Khan University Hospital Nairobi