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A thorough eye examination can detect many other potentially serious medical conditions in their earliest stages, says Ric Steere, vp-sales for Rancho Cordova, Calif.-based Vision Service Plan.

Among the conditions an eye exam can detect:

* Albinism, the congenital deficiency or absence of pigment in the skin, hair, choroid, retina and iris

* Alcohol abuse

* Arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries

* Atherosclerosis, a type of arteriosclerosis in which cholesterol and lipids build up in the arteries. It is the most common form of heart disease.

* Diabetes

* High blood pressure

* Nerve disorders

* Nutritional disorders

* Parasites

* Toxic reactions

* Tumors

* Viral and bacterial infections

* Vitamin deficiencies.