The eye may be small, but it is one of the most amazing parts of your body and has a lot in common with the brain. The eye is the only part of the brain that can be seen directly – this happens when the optician uses an ophthalmoscope and shines a bright light into your eye as part of an eye examination. It shows the innermost layer of the eye (the retina), and the nerve carrying visual messages from the retina to the brain (along the optic nerve) are visible in the back of the eye.
The brain has a critical role in taking the visual information your eye gathers and putting it together into a picture that you can understand. And the optic nerve directly connects the brain to the back of the eye. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) reports that studies show a clear relationship between brain tissue and eye tissue.
Research also shows that diseases and conditions of the brain can also affect the eyes because the optic nerve and retina are brain tissue that extends outside the braincase. Alzheimer's disease and dementia, which are caused by damage to brain cells, both appear to have effects on the retina, according to the AAO.
It's already known that eye exams can help diagnose systemic health issues like cardiovascular disease, risk factors for stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, sexually transmitted diseases and some cancers. The connection between the eyes and brain has stimulated more studies to determine if a detailed eye exam could help identify early stages of brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, or Alzheimer’s.
The eye is our window to the brain – and there’s a lot we can learn from it. If it’s been over a year since your last eye exam or if you have concerns about your vision, contact Shofner Vision Center at (615) 340-4733 or you may schedule an appointment online.