What does an optometrist see when they switch on that light and look into your eyes? Specsavers’ optometrist, Dr Nigel Best, has shared some optometry secrets on six potentially fatal diseases that an eye test can detect:

 

Diabetes


High blood-glucose levels can damage the blood vessels next to the retina. During the examination an optometrist can see any tiny leaks that result.

 

Hypertension


Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is symptomless, but is a key risk factor for stroke, heart disease and vascular dementia. Optometrists look out for squiggly blood vessels in the retina and any bleeding behind the eye. 

 

Raised cholesterol


High levels of cholesterol can visibly clog or block the blood vessels in the eyes. A total blockage can also lead to visual blind spots.

 

Eye cancer


Cancerous growths inside the eye are very visible.

 

Brain tumour


A brain tumour can increase the pressure inside your brain, and in turn, can cause the optic disc to visibly swell. An optometrist can spot these signs often before other symptoms such as headaches or nausea begin.

 

Multiple sclerosis (MS)


MS causes inflammation of the optic nerve, which creates a banana-shaped field defect called a scotoma near to the eye’s retina.

 

 

Future possibilities

 

Although most people are familiar with the high street optometrist and optician service, optometrists also practice in hospitals and in GP surgeries.

"You might also see an optometrist pull up in a van, to offer a mobile service!"

Increasingly, you might also see them pull up in a van to offer a mobile service – such as that provided by Specsavers Healthcall - in a community space, residential care home or even a private home. According to Specsavers’ optometrist Dr Nigel Best, the past 25 years have seen an “enormous change in optometrist training, and an explosion in the optometrist’s skill set”.

 

More new tests

 

Advances in technology have increased both the range of settings in which optometrists can practice, and the range of tests they can do. For example, there is a new test in development for early Alzheimer’s disease, which can manifest in the eye as a build-up of plaque, and there is a new mobile phone app, which can scan the white of your eye (the sclera) for the first signs of pancreatic cancer.

"A mobile phone app, which can scan for the first signs of pancreatic cancer."

To identify and advise on such a wide range of conditions, optometrists have to undergo challenging training pre- and post-qualification and all have a degree. Some optometrists also gain specialist qualifications in areas such as paediatric eye care (such as squints and lazy eyes in children), prescribing low vision aids and contact lens fitting. Many will also become accredited to support GPs and hospital consultants in managing more complex eye conditions. Since 2008, optometrists have also been able to prescribe certain medicines, such as antibiotic or antihistamine eye drops.

 

Ensuring standards

 

At registration, all optometrists are members of the College of Optometrists (CO) and will use the initials MCOptom or FCOptom after their name. They may also display a membership sign in their practices. College membership and any other specialist qualifications are listed against the optometrist’s registration with the General Optical Council, whose register is open to the public to search, advises CO clinical advisor Daniel Hardiman-McCartney.