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The front of the eye, or the cornea which is the transparent bit we look through to see the world, forms in the embryo from skin like cells. The back of the eye, or the Retina, is actually a part of the brain; so when we look into the eye and observe the back of the eye we are looking at a small representation of the brains normal environment. And it's a glorious sight! When I had GP trainees at my surgery I used to delight in getting them to look at the back of the eyes and seeing the look of wonder and amazement of how beautiful it is. What the expert sees is a red surface that has tiny blood vessels running over the surface and converging to"drain out" through the same exit point, like some imaginary Martian landscape.
From a technical point of view it is quite tricky to get a patient to sit still whilst you shine a bright light in their eyes and "coo" over their retina! In all classical observations of the retina, the pupil of the eye needs to be dilated with special eye drops which gives much improved views; but the downside is that when the patient goes out into bright sunlight, because the pupil may still be wide open, the light can appear very bright indeed!
But apart from being amazed by the structure of the retina, being able to see these tiny blood vessels has given useful information on the state of the blood vessels in the wider circulation which is of particular importance for people with Hypertension and Diabetes. Now researcher have added another association to the health of retinal blood vessels - thinking and memory skills.
According to the author of a report in the online journal Neurology Dr Mary Haan, of the University of California, San Francisco. "This could be very useful if a simple eye screening could give us an early indication that people might be at risk of problems with their brain health and functioning."
So the next time someone looks into your eyes and sighs, it might not be quite as romantic as you thought!