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Diabetes Patients: Protect Your Vision With Eye Exams

In Alabama, where I have been a practicing doctor of optometry for 30 years, diabetes mellitus (known colloquially as “sugar diabetes” in the South) is far too common. Diabetes interferes with the body’s ability to use and store sugar (glucose) which results in too much sugar in the blood. This can cause damage throughout the body, including the eyes.

Here in my state and across the United States, it’s not surprising that a high number of the patients who come into the optometrist’s office have diabetes. Many of these patients come in with no previous diagnosis of diabetes, just complaining of a sudden change in their vision. In fact, in 2017, optometrists diagnosed more than 401,000 cases of diabetic retinopathy in patients who did not even know they had diabetes. Far too often, many of these patients haven’t seen their primary care physician in a while —sometimes years.

Other patients do know they have diabetes due to a diagnosis somewhere along the line, but they have not followed up with a health care provider and have not managed their condition with appropriate medication, exercise and diet.

Over time, diabetes damages the blood vessels in the retina. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when these tiny blood vessels leak blood and other fluids. This causes the retinal tissue to swell, resulting in cloudy or blurred vision. The condition usually affects both eyes. The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely they will develop diabetic retinopathy, one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States.

 Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Seeing spots or floaters
  • Blurred vision
  • Having a dark or empty spot in the center of your vision
  • Difficulty seeing well at night

 Patients with diabetes who can better control their blood sugar levels will slow the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy. The early stages of diabetic retinopathy often have no visual symptoms. That is why the American Optometric Association recommends that everyone with diabetes have a comprehensive dilated eye examination once a year.

 If you have diabetes, the good news is that you can help prevent or slow the development of diabetic retinopathy by:

  • Taking your prescribed medication
  • Sticking to your diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Controlling high blood pressure
  • Avoiding alcohol and smoking

Early detection and treatment can save your vision. No online eye test can do that.

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