Receiving in-person, dilated eye exams on a regular basis is crucial to preserving your vision from the effects of diabetes.
Robert C. Layman, O.D.
President, American Optometric Association
Every day in my exam room, I see people who have been touched by diabetes. Whether newly diagnosed, managing the disease for several years, or living with a loved one struggling to fight its devastating effects, the disease affects us all.
In my practice, and in optometry offices across the country, 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 2019, Doctors of Optometry detected an estimated 431,000 cases of diabetes in patients who were unaware they had the disease. Far too often, many of these patients haven’t seen their primary care physician lately — and sadly, sometimes in years.
Other patients do know they have diabetes, either due to a diagnosis at some point during an exam or because of symptoms. However, they often have not followed up with a healthcare provider, or they may not have managed their condition with appropriate medication, exercise, and diet.
A leading cause of blindness
Did you know that the eye is the only place within the body that blood vessels can be directly viewed without having to look through skin or tissue? Your Doctor of Optometry is then able to detect a number of diseases that affect your blood vessels, including diabetes, which 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. Often the early stages of diabetic retinopathy have no visual symptoms. That is why the American Optometric Association recommends that everyone has a comprehensive in-person 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, and getting regular eye exams.
Early detection and treatment can save your vision. Your Doctor of Optometry is part of your diabetes care team! Visit aoa.org for more information or to find an optometrist near you.