Often described as “windows to the soul,” eyes reveal a lot about a person’s feelings or emotions. With regular exams, they can also provide a view into the state of your overall health.

“The eye is the only part of the body where we can physically visualize blood vessels and nerves without having to use a scalpel,” says Dr. Keith G. Tokuhara, a Rancho Mirage ophthalmologist with Desert Vision Center who specializes in complex cataract surgery. During a routine eye exam, he can detect common systemic and potentially undiagnosed conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, autoimmune disorders, and sleep apnea.

Upon examination, most patients receive good news about their eye health — your basic “everything is fine, see you next year” scenario. “It’s a very small percentage of patient encounters where eye doctors do find something serious, either vision threatening or life threatening,” says Tokuhara, who has diagnosed rare conditions such as Lyme disease, West Nile virus, syphilis, and even metastatic cancer and helped save people’s lives. Which is reason enough to schedule a regular eye exam.

Individuals under age 40 with no eye diseases or a family history of them should plan an eye exam once every two years. That changes in middle age. “At age 40, regardless of whether you wear contacts, glasses, or nothing, you should get a baseline eye exam to assess how often you need to be followed in the future,” says Dr. Deepa Abraham, an ophthalmologist and glaucoma specialist at Milauskas Eye Institute.

The health view afforded through the eyes appears set to increase. Given the rising number of Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, ophthalmic manifestations of dementia and the possibility of early detection through an eye examination has become part of the conversation. “The eye is an extension of the brain,” Tokuhara says, “and research is being done on potential screening technology for the early detection of dementia with an eye exam.”

Optical coherence tomography (OCT), a fast and noninvasive test performed in office, measures the thickness of neural tissue in the eye. “Some recent studies have revealed retinal thinning as a potential noninvasive biomarker for early neurodegeneration seen in Alzheimer’s disease,” Tokuhara continues.

Artificial intelligence appears to have much to offer in the realm of eye care as well.

“AI takes our ability to detect patterns in the retina to a higher level,” Abraham says. “There are studies showing that AI analysis of retinal scans may be able to aid in the diagnosis of dementia and Parkinson’s disease as well as identify patients at higher risk of heart attack and stroke.”

In light of these advancements, the phrase “look deep into my eyes” takes on new meaning and underscores the importance of taking care of these essential organs.