By Judith Whitehead – Contributing Writer
Diabetes and diabetic eye disease has become so common in the United States that more than 9 percent of the population have been diagnosed. That means that more than 29 million people have it.
Surprisingly, more than one in four people who have it have yet to be diagnosed with the disease. They have slipped through the cracks.
Diabetic eye disease is the number one cause of blindness among Americans.
Several eye conditions fall under the umbrella of diabetic eye problems. Diagnoses such as diabetic macular edema and diabetic retinopathy are caused by diabetic eye disease. Those with diabetes don't develop these eye problems immediately; it takes months or even years of elevated blood sugars to damage the retina.
Insulin dependent diabetics as well as Type 2 diabetics can both develop retinal pathology. A diabetic eye examination must be performed with dilated pupils in order to get a full view of the retina. A few special eye drops will dilate the pupils to facilitate a complete eye examination.
An ophthalmologist or optometrist who dilates the pupils can perform this vital eye exam that should be done every year for those with diabetes.
Most medical offices also are equipped with what an OCT, or optical coherence tomography, test that will map out any abnormalities of the retina in less than 5 minutes. It's an easy, non-invasive way to check out the back of the eye.
Most insurances cover this testing. If an abnormality is detected, the doctor may then order a Flourescein angiography test to further determine if any damage to the retina that needs treatment. It is a procedure done in most medical offices by the photographer/angiographer and takes a few minutes to perform once the pupils are fully dilated for maximum viewing.
Early detection is always the key to preserving eyesight. Laser treatments and injections into the retina can help maintain good vision if a problem is detected. They are usually not a one-time treatment and are a commitment by the patient to preserve precious eyesight.
I have seen many diabetic patients loose vision and/or go blind in our ophthalmology practice, mostly because of non-compliance.
Monitoring blood sugars is vital and many people tell me they “feel OK.” Elevated blood sugar, like blood pressure, can't always be “felt.” It must be quantified with testing regularly. Self-monitoring is a commitment that must be kept for prevention of eye disease.
A primary medical doctor or specialist called an endocrinologist should guide you to the proper treatment to keep your blood sugar at an acceptable level, including with a proper diet. Medication that works for some may not work for others, requiring the need to be vigilant and resilient.
Don't give up. There are many treatment options and medications to try.
It's up to you. Don't loose precious vision and take care of your health.
Judith Whitehead, of East Amherst, is a certified ophthalmic technician.