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Eye Health

20 March 2018

How your eyes can reveal a brain tumour

Don’t skip your annual eye test. A routine eye test can be vital in the detection of serious medical conditions.

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Not only do we need to undergo regular eye tests to ensure healthy vision, but there are also a couple of serious health problems that can be detected through eye examinations, such as diabetes and glaucoma.

One of the more unusual diseases that can be detected through an eye examination is a brain tumour.

The optic nerve and brain tumours

How exactly can your eyes give a clue to this? Dr Nigel Best, an optometrist from Specsavers, explains, “Swelling of the optic nerve can be visible during an eye test, and that can indicate that a brain tumour is present.”

According to Harvard Medical School, this swelling of the optic nerve is called papilledema and occurs due to intracranial pressure (pressure inside the skull). Fluid surrounding the brain is constantly produced and reabsorbed, maintaining just enough intracranial pressure to help protect the brain if there is blunt head trauma.

When a tumour is present, however, it creates extra intracranial pressure, which causes the optic nerve to swell.

Other changes to the eye that can signal a possible brain tumour include sudden changes to a person’s field of sight and onset of blurry vision. The rest of the eye can also swell, and rapid changes to the retina can signify pressure from a brain tumour.

optic nerve swelling

Is it really a brain tumour?

In the case of a brain tumour, you will most likely also experience symptoms such as headaches and nausea. But these symptoms are easy to ignore and interpret as something far less serious, like flu for example.

Your optometrist will inform you of any alarming changes or other problems in your eyes. They should also have a record of your previous eye scans and vision tests for comparison. If there is any reason for concern, you will be referred to a doctor for additional examinations.

Tips to maintain eye health

A previous Health24 article gives the following tips to keep your eyes in tip-top shape:

  • Follow a healthy diet with plenty of antioxidants to keep your eyesight and nervous system healthy.
  • Quit smoking to avoid the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
  • Wear safety eyewear when doing a risky job (such as welding).
  • Wear protective sunglasses.
  • Go for an annual eye test – more regularly if you have diabetes or are at risk for glaucoma.
  • Don’t ignore symptoms such as sharp eye pain, headaches or blurred vision.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology you should go for a check-up if you have any of the following:

  • Bulging of one or both eyes
  • Dark curtain or veil that blocks your vision
  • Decreased vision, even if only temporary
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Distorted vision
  • Double vision
  • Excess tearing
  • Eyelid abnormalities
  • Family history of eye disease
  • Coloured circles around lights
  • High blood pressure
  • HIV or Aids
  • An injury or trauma to the eye

Image credit: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Optometrist

Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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