The systems in our body are interconnected, which means that changes in the eye can reflect those in the vascular, nervous, and immune systems. Unlike the other organs in our body, the pupils of the eyes offer a visible pathway to the brain and our vascular makeup. Blood vessels, nerves, and tissues can all be viewed directly through the eye with specialized equipment. Eye tests conducted during an eye check-up examine more than just your vision and health of the eye.
In this article, you will read about how a routine eye check-up played a role in the early detection and management of an autoimmune disease using a true story shared by Paula.
“I started having blurry vision in my final year of University and figured it was because my glasses were about 3 years old. I went to the Optometrist and he said there were no changes in the degree of my eyes. I started feeling more tired than usual but thought that it was due to the exam stress. I tried resting as much as I could but that didn’t help.
One morning, I woke up and realised the blurry vision got worse. Again, I dismissed it as exam-related stress and thought it would get better. The next morning, I could barely see my phone out of my left eye. It was a Sunday and the eye clinic nearby was closed. I went to the mall nearby to see an Optometrist who checked my vision and did some tests to check the back of my eye and he told me that I possibly have Optic Neuritis in the left eye and made a call to his friend who was a doctor at a hospital and told me to go to the Emergency Room (ER) immediately.
Google scared me when I read about the eye condition! I rushed to the ER, they applied some drops to dilate my eyes and told me it was in fact Optic Neuritis! I was admitted for intravenous steroids. I had to skip my exams because my vision took a week to recover. The doctor started asking me questions about my general health and I said I’ve been more tired than usual and getting headaches but did not think that I needed to see a doctor about this. I wondered how this had happened to my eyes when I’m generally healthy and exercise pretty regularly. They did an MRI scan of my brain and eyes, and the scans showed that I have Multiple Sclerosis (MS). My world came to a stop for a while. After the steroids were completed and my vision returned to normal, I saw a Neurologist and started treatment for the MS. I took a few months of a sabbatical and completed my exams the following semester.
I didn’t think this eye disease or any other could happen to someone my age and I was so glad that I saw the Optometrist who sent me to the hospital on time. This situation taught me to never ignore any changes in my vision and to never delay getting my eyes checked on time.”
27yo, Accountant, New Jersey
Multiple sclerosis and optic neuritis
Figure 1. Comparison of a healthy nerve and a nerve affected by MS. (Source: Genentech, 2021)
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a degenerative disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). In patients with MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath or myelin that covers the nerve fibres and impairs the communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Over time, MS can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves. At present, there is no cure for MS. However, treatments aid in speedy recovery from relapses and alter the cause of the disease and manage its symptoms.
Optic neuritis is a term used to describe the inflammation along the optic nerve (the nerve that sends all visual messages to the brain, producing vision). In 3 out of 10 people with MS, optic neuritis is a presenting sign. An eye check-up can lead to the initial diagnosis of MS. Timely treatment of MS and optic neuritis may improve the chances of vision recovery and also a higher quality of life and lower rates of systemic disability over time.
Paula’s story is just one of many in which an eye test during an eye check-up leads to a detection of a sight and/or life-altering disease. Just like routine health check-ups or vaccinations, routine eye check-ups are vital in caring for your eyes and your general health.
 R. E. Sakai et al., “Vision in multiple sclerosis: the story, structure-function correlations, and models for neuroprotection”, J Neuroophthalmol. Vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 362-73, Dec 2011.