Unveiling the hidden connections: How vision impacts your health

Challenges with vision can range from annoying to alarming, particularly if you’re experiencing sudden changes in focus, clarity, and depth perception. But your vision is about more than how well you see — it can also be an indicator of your overall health and wellness.

Let’s look at some of the ways vision is connected to your health.

Chronic conditions and concerns

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The eyes can act as an early warning system about overall health, which is why optometrists and ophthalmologists may see signs of larger issues during an eye exam. Most notably, they can detect concerns like high cholesterol and high blood pressure — two issues that rarely come with other warning signs. Because of that, an eye exam may be the first time you hear there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. For example, symptoms such as poor night vision, colors appearing washed out, floaters in the eye, and blurry vision can all be related to diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease caused by diabetes.


If your symptoms involve more inflammation, such as swelling in the eyelids and eyes that look pushed forward, that may be an indication of thyroid eye disease, which can occur in those with both underactive and overactive thyroid glands.

Other types of conditions that involve inflammation and may have vision symptoms include:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Lupus
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sjögren’s syndrome

These serious health issues affect the entire body, and they can affect the eyes, as well. For example, lupus can cause light sensitivity and chronic dry eye, and with multiple sclerosis, inflammation in the optic nerve can lead to painful eye movement or double vision.

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Mental health

Poor vision can affect your mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vision loss has been linked to loneliness; social isolation; and feelings of worry, fear, and anxiety.

According to a CDC study, about 1 in 4 adults with vision loss reported anxiety or depression, and younger adults with vision difficulties had almost five times the risk of a serious mental health issue compared to adults aged 65 or older.

A review in the journal Clinical Ophthalmology noted that visual impairment is associated with reduced quality of life, concurrent medical issues, and mental health difficulties. These issues can be compounded if there’s hearing loss to any degree, particularly for older adults.

Hearing and vision difficulties, especially when experienced together, can cause a decreased ability to communicate with others and can kick off a significant ripple effect that leads to fewer social interactions, less interest in everyday activities, sleep problems, and mood changes.

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Protecting your vision

Although the National Eye Institute has designated July as Healthy Vision Month, protecting your eyes is crucial at any time of the year. That means getting regular eye exams, wearing sun protection like sunglasses outdoors, learning more about your family’s eye health history, and talking with your doctor about any issues affecting your vision.

Other recommendations for vision protection include:

  • Reducing screen time when possible
  • Taking “eye breaks” at work
  • Eating a healthy diet, particularly one that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Getting quality sleep, which allows the eyes to get the necessary moisture that they need
  • Not smoking, since tobacco use is strongly associated with vision problems

Address any symptoms early, before they become problematic — that’s key for potentially catching difficulties related to other health and wellness concerns.

For more education resources, visit Mass Eye and Ear’s website.

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