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Looking people straight in the eye may or may not reveal their honesty -- but the eyes *can* tell you about cholesterol, liver disease,
or diabetes, if you know what to look for.
"The eye is a unique window into health," says ophthalmologist Andrew Iwach, spokesperson for the American Academy of
Ophthalmology (AAO) and executive director of the Glaucoma Center of San Francisco. "It's the only place in the body where,
without surgery, we can look in and see veins, arteries, and a nerve (the optic nerve)."
The eyes' transparency explains why common eye diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration can be
detected early with regular eye exams.
"Unfortunately, people get busy and delay not only eye exams but regular physicals. That's why eye doctors sometimes discover
other issues, like diabetes or high blood pressure," Iwach says. Especially vulnerable, he says: People like caregivers, who worry
about others around them while neglecting care for themselves.
Keep your eye out for these 14 problems.
By Paula Spencer
|14 Things Your Eyes Say About Your Health
5. Red flag: Increasing gunk in the eye
What it means: Blepharitis -- inflammation of the eyelids, especially at the edges -- can have several causes. Two of them,
surprisingly, are conditions better associated with other body parts: scalp dandruff and acne rosacea (which causes flushed red
skin, usually in the faces of fair-skinned women at midlife).
More clues: The eyes may also feel irritated, as if specks have gotten in them. They may burn, tear, or feel dry. The crusty debris
tends to gather in the lashes or the inner corners of the eyes, or even on the lids.
What to do: With clean hands, apply a warm, damp washcloth to the eyes for about five minutes at a time to loosen debris and
soothe the skin. See a doctor, who may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or oral antibiotics, as well as artificial tears.
6. Red flag: A small blind spot in your vision, with shimmering lights or a wavy line
What it means: An ocular migraine (also called an "ophthalmic migraine," "optical migraine," or "migraine aura") produces this
disturbed vision, with or without an accompanying headache. Changes in blood flow to the brain are thought to be the cause.
More clues: The visual distortion starts in the center of the field of vision. It might appear as a bright dot, dots, or a line that can
seem to move and disrupt your ability to see properly, as if you were looking through a pocked or cracked window. It's painless and
causes no lasting damage. Individuals seem to have different triggers (ranging from chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol to stress). A
headache, possibly severe enough to cause nausea, sometimes follows.
What to do: If you're driving, pull over until the phenomenon passes (usually within an hour). Do have an eye specialist check it out
if vision impairment lasts more than an hour or so, to rule out serious problems such as a retinal tear; or if you also experience other
symptoms elsewhere that could indicate stroke or seizure (such as fever, loss of muscle strength, or speech impairment).
7. Red flag: Red, itchy eyes
What it means: Many things can irritate eyes, but itchiness accompanied by sneezing, coughing, sinus congestion, and/or a runny
nose, usually screams "I'm allergic!" When the eyes are involved, the trigger is usually airborne, like pollen, dust, or animal dander.
More clues: An eye allergy can also be caused by certain cosmetics or ointments. Some people, for example, are allergic to the
preservative in eye drops used to treat dry eyes.
What to do: Staying away from the allergic trigger is the usual treatment. Antihistamines can treat the itchiness; those in eye-drop
or gel form deliver relief to the eyes faster. If the problem turns out to be an allergy to eye drops, look for a preservative-free brand.
8. Red flag: Whites of the eye turned yellowish
What it means: Two groups of people most often show this symptom, known as jaundice: Newborns with immature liver function and
adults with problems of the liver, gallbladder, or bile ducts, including hepatitis and cirrhosis. The yellow in the white part of the eye
(the sclera) is caused by a buildup of bilirubin, the by-product of old red blood cells the liver can't process.
More clues: "Other tissues of the body would have the same look, but we can't see it as clearly as in the whites of the eye," says
ophthalmologist Iwach. (Skin can also turn yellowish when a person consumes too much beta carotene -- found in carrots -- but in
those cases the whites of the eyes remain white.)
What to do: Mention the symptom to a doctor if the person isn't already under care for a liver-related disease, so the jaundice can
be evaluated and the underlying cause treated.
3. Red flag: Bumpy yellowish patches on the eyelid
What it means: Xanthelasma palpebra, the medical name for these tiny yellow bumps, are usually a
warning that you may have high cholesterol. They're also called "cholesterol bumps" -- they're basically
More clues: Sometimes people mistake these bumps for a stye, but with xanthelasma, there tends to
be more than one bump and they're quite small.
What to do: See your doctor or a skin or eye specialist. A diagnosis can usually be made by sight.
An ophthalmologist can also examine the eye and see deposits; for this reason, in fact, sometimes high
cholesterol is first diagnosed during a routine eye exam. The problem usually isn't serious and doesn't
cause pain or vision problems. A physician will also evaluate you for other signs of coronary artery
4. Red flag: Burning eyes, blurry vision while using a computer
What it means: You might be a workaholic, and you definitely have "computer vision syndrome" (CVS). The eyestrain is partly
caused by the lack of contrast on a computer screen (compared with ink on paper) and the extra work involved in focusing on pixels
of light. What's more, by midlife the eyes lose some of their ability to produce lubricating tears. Irritation sets in, adding to blurriness
More clues: Does the problem worsen in the afternoon (when the eyes tend to become drier)? Is it worse when you're reading fine
print (more eyestrain)? People who wear glasses or contacts tend to be bothered more by CVS. "Sometimes the problem is made
worse by a fan positioned so it blows right in the face," the AAO's Iwach adds, noting that the air further dries tired eyes.
What to do: Reduce glare by closing window shades, investing in a computer hood, or checking out antireflective coating for your
glasses (if you wear them). Simply tinkering with the contrast of your screen can help, too. White areas should neither glow brightly
like a light source nor appear gray. Flat-panel LCD display screens (like those on laptops) cause less eyestrain than older models.
Keep reference material close to the same height as your monitor, giving your eyes a break from having to refocus so much.
1. Red flag: Disappearing eyebrows
What it means: Shaved eyebrows are a fad (or fashion, if you will) in some circles. But when the outer third of the brow (the part
closest to the ears) starts to disappear on its own, this is a common sign of thyroid disease -- either hyperthyroidism (overactive
thyroid gland) or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland). The thyroid is a small but critical gland that helps regulate metabolism,
and thyroid hormones are among those critical to hair production.
More clues: Brows tend to thin with age naturally. But with thyroid disease, the brow-hair loss isn't evenly distributed; it's a selective
dropout on the ends. There's usually a loss of hair elsewhere on the body, too, but the brows are so prominent, it's often noticed
here first. Early graying is a related sign of a thyroid problem. Women are more often affected than men, and hyperthyroidism
especially strikes women in their 20s and 30s.
What to do: Mention this symptom to a dermatologist or your regular doctor. Most other symptoms of both hyper- and
hypothyroidism are notoriously broad and general. Before you see a doctor, make note of any other changes you've noticed,
possibly concerning weight, energy levels, bowel or menstrual regularity, mood, or skin changes.
2. Red flag: A stye that won't go away
What it means: The vast majority of the time, a small, raised, often reddish bump along the inner or outer eyelid margin is just an
unsightly but innocuous stye (also called a "chalazion"). But if the spot doesn't clear up in three months, or seems to keep recurring
in the same location, it can also be a rare cancer (sebaceous gland carcinoma).
More clues: Actual styes are plugged-up oil glands at the eyelash follicle. Fairly common, they tend to clear up within a month. A
cancerous cyst that mimics a stye, on the other hand, doesn't go away. (Or it may seem to go away but return in the same spot.)
Another eyelid cancer warning sign: Loss of some of the eyelashes around the stye.
What to do: Point out a persistent stye to an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in the eye). A biopsy can confirm the
diagnosis. The stye is usually removed surgically.
9. Red flag: A bump or brown spot on the eyelid
What it means: Even people who are vigilant about checking their skin may overlook the eyelid as a spot where skin cancer can
strike. Most malignant eyelid tumors are basal cell carcinoma. When such a tumor appears as a brown spot, then -- as with any
other form of skin cancer -- it's more likely to be malignant melanoma.
More clues: Elderly, fair-skinned people are at highest risk. Look especially at the lower eyelid. The bump may look pearly, with tiny
blood vessels. If the bump is in the eyelash area, some eyelashes may be missing.
What to do: Always have any suspicious skin spots or sores checked out by a dermatologist, family physician, or eye doctor. Early
detection is critical, before the problem spreads to nearby lymph nodes.
10. Red flag: Eyes that seem to bulge
What it means: The most common cause of protruding eyes is hyperthyroidism (overactivity of the thyroid gland), especially the
form known as Graves' disease. (First Lady Barbara Bush had it.)
More clues: One way to tell if an eye is bulging is to see whether there's any visible white part between the top of the iris and the
upper eyelid, because normally there shouldn't be. (Some people inherit a tendency toward eyes that bulge, so if the appearance
seems to run in a family, it probably isn't hyperthyroidism.) The person may not blink often and may seem to be staring at you.
Because the condition develops slowly, it's sometimes first noticed in photos or by the occasional visitor rather than by someone who
lives with the person every day.
What to do: Mention the symptom to a doctor, especially if it's present in tandem with other signs of Graves' disease, including
blurry vision, restlessness, fatigue, increase in appetite, weight loss, tremors, and palpitations. A blood test can measure thyroid
levels. Treatment includes medication and surgery.
11. Red flag: Sudden double vision, dim vision, or loss of vision
What it means: These are the visual warning signs of stroke.
More clues: The other signs of stroke include sudden numbness or weakness of the arm or leg or face, typically on just one side of
the body; trouble walking because of dizziness or loss of balance or coordination; slurred speech; or bad headache. In a large
stroke (caused by a blood clot or bleeding in the brain), these symptoms happen all at once. In a smaller stroke caused by narrowed
arteries, they can occur across a longer period of minutes or hours.
What to do: Seek immediate medical help by calling 911.
12. Red flag: Dry eyes that are sensitive to light
What it means: Sjogren's (pronounced "show-grins") syndrome is an
immune system disorder. It impairs the glands in the eyes and mouth that
keep them moist.
More clues: Sjogren's usually affects women over age 40 with autoimmune
disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Usually the eyes and mouth
are affected together. The person may also have vaginal dryness, dry
sinuses, and dry skin. Because of a lack of saliva, it can be difficult to chew
What to do: A doctor can diagnose Sjogren's through testing. Artificial
lubricants (such as artificial tears) are usually necessary to protect the eyes,
as well as to improve eating. Drinking plenty of water also helps.
13. Red flag: Sudden difficulty closing one eye, inability to control tears in it
What it means: Bell's palsy is an impairment of the nerve that controls facial muscles (the seventh cranial nerve), causing
temporary paralysis in half the face. It sometimes follows a viral infection (such as shingles, mono, or HIV) or a bacterial infection
(such as Lyme disease). Diabetics and pregnant women are also at higher risk.
More clues: Half of the entire face, not just the eye, is affected. Effects vary from person to person, but the overall effect is for the
face to appear droopy and be weak. The eyelid may droop and be difficult or impossible to close, and there will be either excessive
tearing or an inability to produce tears. The effects tend to come on suddenly.
What to do: See a doctor. Most cases are temporary and the person recovers completely within weeks. Rarely, the condition can
recur. Physical therapy helps restore speaking, smiling, and other tasks that require the facial muscles working in unison, and it also
helps avoid an asymmetrical appearance. Professional eye care can keep the affected eye lubricated and undamaged.
14. Red flag: Blurred vision in a diabetic
What it means: Diabetics are at increased risk for several eye problems, including glaucoma and cataracts. But the most common
threat to vision is diabetic retinopathy, in which the diabetes affects the circulatory system of the eye. It's the leading cause of
blindness in American adults.
More clues: The changes linked to diabetic retinopathy tend to show up in people who have had the disease for a long time, not
those recently diagnosed. The person may also see "floaters," tiny dark specks in the field of vision. Sometimes diabetes causes
small hemorrhages (bleeding) that are visible in the eye. There's no pain. People with poorly controlled blood sugar may have
What to do: Someone with diabetes should have a dilated eye exam annually to catch and control the earliest stages of
retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, or other changes -- before they manifest as changes you're aware of.
Whether it's because of heredity, hormonal changes or aging-related weight gain, many women notice an increase in belly fat as
they grow older — and especially after menopause. Gaining fat in your abdomen is particularly unhealthy when compared with
other locations in your body. Excess belly fat increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain types of
cancers. The good news is that a few lifestyle changes and some targeted abdominal exercises can help you battle your belly
|Belly fat in women: How to keep it off
Belly fat hasn't always been your problem — you've worried more about hips and thighs. Now
your midsection's making up for lost time. What's up?
By Mayo Clinic staff
When fat gathers in your abdomen
As you age and your metabolism slows down, the amount of fat in your body
slowly increases. Women experience an even greater fat percentage increase
than men do. Then after menopause, your body fat distribution tends to shift —
less in your arms, legs and hips, and more in your abdomen.
You may think belly fat is limited to the stuff out front that you can grab with your
hand — but it's the fat you can't see that's really a cause for concern. Visceral fat
lies deeper inside the abdomen, surrounding the abdominal organs. Gaining this
type of fat has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other health
problems. Subcutaneous fat, located between the skin and the abdominal wall, is
more visible but also less likely to be a health risk.
While a slowing metabolism and decreased physical activity contribute to overall
weight gain as you age, those factors don't influence visceral fat accumulation
directly. Heredity may be the culprit — you may simply have inherited a tendency
to gain weight in your midsection. Hormones also play a role. Hormonal changes
after menopause may change the way that your body breaks down and stores fat,
leading to more fat accumulating in your belly.
Some women even experience a widening waist without gaining any weight. Although you may not be gaining extra fat, your
abdominal fat is increasing as limb and hip fat decreases. Even in women of a normal weight, too much fat concentrated in the
midsection is unhealthy.
The midsection matters
Gaining weight in your abdomen does more harm than simply making your waistband too tight. While putting on weight in general
can have negative effects on your health, abdominal weight gain is particularly unhealthy. Too much belly fat increases your risk
High blood pressure
Researchers also have found that abdominal fat cells aren't just dormant energy waiting to be burned up. The cells are active,
producing hormones and other substances that can affect your health. For example, some fat-cell-produced hormones can
promote insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes; others can produce estrogen after menopause, which may increase
your breast cancer risk. Researchers are still sorting out how the excess hormones affect overall health, but they do know that too
much visceral fat can disrupt the body's normal hormonal balance.
Measuring your middle
You know you've gained some inches around your torso, but how can you know whether it's an unhealthy amount? You can
calculate your body mass index (BMI) or waist-hip ratio, but researchers have found that simply measuring your waist can tell you
whether you have an unhealthy amount of belly fat. In fact, BMI may not be an accurate measure of body fat percentage or fat
distribution, particularly after menopause.
To measure your waist, run a tape measure around your midsection at about the level of your navel. Breathe normally, don't hold
your tummy in, and don't pull the tape so tight that it presses your skin down. In a woman of healthy weight, a waist measurement
of 35 inches or more indicates an unhealthy concentration of abdominal fat. Some research has shown that a measurement of 33
inches or more, no matter what your weight, increases your health risks.
Since visceral fat is buried deep in your abdomen, it may seem like a difficult
target for spot reduction. As it turns out, visceral fat responds well to a regular
exercise routine and a healthy diet. Targeted tummy exercises can help to
firm the abdominal muscles and flatten the belly.
Exercise. Daily, moderate-intensity exercise is the best way to lose belly fat
— when you lose weight and tone your muscles, your belly fat begins
shrinking, too. In fact, you may notice that your tummy bulge is the first area
to shrink when you start exercising. The amount and type of exercise you
should get varies depending on your current activity level and your health
goals. Talk to your doctor about the right exercise program to promote good
health and specifically combat abdominal fat.
Strength training. Some research has shown that exercising with weights is effective in trimming tummy fat. Talk to your doctor
about how to incorporate strength training in your exercise routine.
Healthy diet. Changing unhealthy eating habits can help fight belly fat. Read nutrition labels, and replace saturated fats with
polyunsaturated fats. Increase portions of complex carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables, and reduce simple carbohydrates
like white bread and refined pasta. If you need to lose weight, reduce your portion sizes and daily calorie intake.
Tone your tummy. While you can't "spot-burn" belly fat, you can firm up your abdominal muscles and get a flatter belly.
Traditional sit-ups aren't the most effective way to firm your tummy, however. Instead, use these exercises to target both deeper
and lower abdominal muscles:
- Deeper abdominal muscles. Target deeper abdominal muscles
by doing "abdominal hollowing" or "drawing in the bellybutton."
First, get down on all fours. Let your tummy hang down as you
take a deep breath. Let your breath out, and at the end of your
exhalation, gently draw your bellybutton inward and upward toward
your spine. You should feel a slight tightening around your waist —
think of it as trying to squeeze through a partially closed door. Hold
for 10 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Work up to 10
repetitions. During each effort, your spine position shouldn't
change and you should breathe freely. Eventually, you'll be able to
do this exercise standing up. It's so subtle, no one should be able
to tell you're doing it.
- Lower abdominal muscles. Tone your lower abdomen by doing
pelvic tilts and pelvic lifts. To do a pelvic tilt, lie on your back on the
floor with your knees bent. Flatten your back against the floor by
tightening your abdominal muscles and bending your pelvis up
slightly. Hold for five to 10 seconds. Repeat five times and work up
to 10 to 20 repetitions.
- Hormone therapy. Although there are good reasons for some
women to try hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after
menopause, fending off belly fat isn't one of them. It's true that
some studies have demonstrated that postmenopausal women
who take HRT are less likely to accumulate abdominal fat than are
postmenopausal women who forgo HRT. Other studies, however,
found no difference. Meanwhile, questions about the risks and
benefits of HRT persist. Talk to your doctor in detail about the risks
and potential benefits of hormone therapy before trying it.
These exercises will help you strengthen
your abdominal muscles.
Abdominal hollowing works the muscles deep
in your abdomen. Get down on all fours and
let your tummy hang down as you take a
deep breath. Breathe out, then gently draw
your bellybutton inward and upward toward
your spine. Hold for 10 seconds, then rest for
10 seconds. Work up to 10 repetitions.
Pelvic tilts tone your lower abdomen. To do a
pelvic tilt, lie on your back on the floor with
your knees bent. Flatten your back against
the floor by tightening your abdominal muscles
and bending your pelvis up slightly. Hold for
five to 10 seconds. Repeat five times and work
up to 10 to 20 repetitions.
Pelvic lifts also tone your lower abdomen.For
pelvic lifts, lie on your back with your knees
bent up toward your chest and your arms
relaxed by your sides. Tighten your lower
abdomen and lift your buttocks up off the
floor, with your knees aimed toward the
ceiling. Hold for five to 10 seconds. Repeat
five times and work up to 10 to 20 repetitions.
The bottom line to losing weight and fat is that you must burn more calories than you consume. If you eat 2,000 calories a day
and only burn 1,500, you’re going to gain weight. On the other hand, if you consume 1,500 calories and burn 2,000, you’ll be in
caloric deficit by 500 calories. Since it takes 3,500 excess calories to gain a pound, you’d lose one pound per week if you
produced a 500-calorie deficit each day of the week. To do that, you could reduce your calorie intake by 250 per day and
increase your physical activity by 250 calories per day (for a 150-pound person, a 2.5-mile walk is all it would take).
Do that each and every day of the week and you’ll drop a pound per week.