When given the choice of which of the five senses is most important (and most difficult to do without), the majority of people pick sight. Of course none of us would choose to give up any of our senses, but the idea of not being able to experience the world visually, is especially difficult to imagine – to never see the smile of a loved one, the brilliance of a sunset, the majesty of snowcapped peaks…or the delicate beauty of a butterfly. But every day millions of people risk the loss of this precious gift without even knowing it. Many of these people have undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes. Because symptoms often come late in the course of the disease, a person may never know they have diabetic eye disease until the damage has already been done. However, compromised vision and vision loss can be avoided or reduced with prompt and appropriate treatment.
NOVEMBER National Diabetes Month National Diabetes Month is observed every November so individuals, health care professionals, organizations, and communities across the country can bring attention to diabetes and its impact on millions of Americans.
Well-Being reached out to Taylor F. Smith, M.D., General Ophthalmologist and Cataract Surgeon from Jackson Eye Associates, about common diabetes-related eye conditions, how they affect the eyes and how diabetes management and regular eye care can help prevent or slow down disease progression.
“The most common diabetic eye diseases are diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema (DME), cataract and glaucoma. Diabetic retinopathy and DME involve damage to the blood vessels in the eye,” says Dr. Smith. “When blood sugar is not controlled, over time it causes swelling and hemorrhaging of these vessels, and ultimately the loss of oxygen to the retinal tissue. This causes scar tissue to form, and can also lead to glaucoma and retinal detachments.”
People with diabetes are 40% more likely to suffer from glaucoma and 60% more likely to develop cataracts.
According to Dr. Smith control is the key. Keeping track of Hemoglobin (A1C), making sure it is kept at 7 or lower, and maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels are all crucial to maintaining good eye health.
“People with diabetes should see an ophthalmologist for an annual eye screening,” Dr. Smith continues. “Children with type 1 diabetes should have their first eye exam within five years of diagnosis, and people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes should be seen by an ophthalmologist immediately at the time of diagnosis – annually after that.”
“Occasionally, someone with elevated blood sugar can get a sudden blurring of vision, caused by swelling of the lens, but most often, there are no early signs of problems before considerable damage has occurred, and it is not just older patients who are at risk,” notes Dr. Smith. “Sadly, at least once a month, patients still in their 30s walk into my office with severe diabetic eye disease. That’s why it is so important to get regular eye checkups.”
Well-Being also spoke to Eric M. Dyess, M.D., Endocrinologist, with The Diabetes and Endocrine Center of Mississippi about how he addresses the risk of diabetic eye disease with the patients he treats.
“About 10 – 15 percent of patients who come to our clinic for care for their diabetes are already showing signs of developing diabetic eye disease,” notes Dr. Dyess. “We immediately refer them to an ophthalmologist and recommend they have an eye exam at least once a year. We also discuss microvascular and macrovascular complications of diabetes with our patients during each visit, and impress on them the need to keep AIC, blood pressure and cholesterol under control.”
Huge strides have been made in the treatment of diabetic retinopathy and other diabetes-related eye diseases. The sooner they are diagnosed, the more likely these treatments will be successful. The best results occur when sight is still normal. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, make sure you see an ophthalmologist at least once a year. Don’t risk the loss of one of your most precious gifts – your sight.
Taylor F. Smith, M.D., Ophthalmologist, at Jackson Eye Associates, Jackson location, received his Doctor of Medicine Degree from the University of MS School of Medicine. He completed his residency training at the University of MS Medical Center where he was Chief Ophthalmology Resident. Dr. Smith is an American Board of Ophthalmology certified physician. He serves pediatric, adult and geriatric patients for general ophthalmology and cataract surgery.