Eye exams help your doctor evaluate your vision. They are essential at all ages; however, as you age, they may be even more important. Eye examinations help determine if you are near-sighted or far-sighted, if you have trouble with reading, if you have difficulty with depth perception, or if you have cataracts, macular degeneration, or cataracts. In addition, medical eye exams can reveal early signs of chronic illnesses. Here are some signs of chronic illnesses that your eye doctor may look for while examining your eyes.

Color Changes

During your exam, your eye doctor will examine your sclera for signs of yellowing. Also known as jaundice, scleral yellowing may mean a number of different things. For example, jaundice of the eyes may mean that you have a liver disease such as cirrhosis or hepatitis, or that you have gallbladder problems, such as gallstones. The yellow hue is caused by the buildup of a yellow pigment known as bilirubin.

When your levels of bilirubin are high, you may develop jaundice of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes of your nose and mouth. Jaundice may also cause dark-colored urine, itchy skin, and watery eyes.

Other color changes in the eye that may indicate an illness may be seen when the lower lid is pulled down. Normally deep pink, inner lower eyelids that are very light pink or even white may indicate to your eye doctor that you have anemia. If your eye doctor discovers any signs of chronic illness during your eye exam, he or she will recommend that you see your primary care doctor for further evaluation.

Ocular Dryness

Dry eyes, also known as ocular dryness, may mean that you have seasonal allergies, sinus problems, or even autoimmune disorders. For example, Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that is often seen in those who have rheumatoid arthritis.

The primary symptoms are dry mouth and dry eyes because Sjögren's syndrome affects both the tear glands and salivary glands. If your eyes are excessively dry, your eye doctor may prescribe lubricating drops, because when you scratch dry eyes, you may be at risk for developing corneal abrasions. If you have both dry eyes and a dry mouth, you will need to see your physician for further testing and treatment. 

Even if you are not experiencing any vision problems, see your eye doctor on a regular basis. When you do, both vision and medical problems may be detected early enough before they have a chance to progress.