***This is a synopsis of an article published in Diabetes Self-Management
If you don’t have issues with your eyes, you may be perplexed when your diabetes care team recommends that you have an eye exam. Why?
The main reason people with diabetes are encouraged to have regular eye exams is to look for changes in the blood vessels of the retina that indicate diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy develops as prolonged exposure to high blood glucose weakens the walls of the blood vessels in the eyes. The longer a person has had diabetes and the greater his exposure to high blood glucose, the greater his risk of having this condition.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that adults and children 10 and older (with Type 1 diabetes) have an initial dilated and comprehensive eye examination within five years after they are diagnosed with diabetes. Patients with Type 2 diabetes are advised to have a dilated and comprehensive exam shortly after the diagnosis of diabetes. After the initial exam, diabetic patients are encouraged to have a yearly exam. However, a study published in the March 2001 issue of Diabetes Care, reports that diabetic retinopathy begins earlier than previously thought (in people with Type 1 Diabetes), therefore, waiting up to five years to have an initial eye exam is too long.
Experts agree that early intervention is key in order to prevent vision loss and blindness caused by diabetes. To significantly reduce the incidence and severity of diabetic retinopathy, it is imperative to have comprehensive eye examinations shortly after a diabetes diagnosis, as diabetic-induced eye problems develop insidiously, without discomfort and/or vision distortion.
If left undetected, diabetic retinopathy causes damage near the macula, from leaking fluid that causes the macula to swell (macular edema) like an insect bite. Macular edema is the most common culprit of visual impairment in diabetic retinopathy. The earliest changes of retinopathy can be temporary, but if the damage continues, proliferative retinopathy will occur, in which new blood vessels will “proliferate in an attempt to increase blood and oxygen supply to the damaged retina.” These new vessels are fragile and can rupture with a cough, sneeze or even during sleep, causing blood to pour into retina, blocking vision. When bleeding subsides, scar tissue builds up putting the patient at risk for retinal detachment. If the proliferative retinopathy is left untreated, it usually leads to blindness.
Aside from preventive and regular, comprehensive eye exams, there are methods for treating diabetic eye pathologies such as proliferative retinopathy with laser treatments and a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy. Medications, ranibizumab and aflibercept are approved to treat diabetic retinopathy in those who have developed diabetic macular edema.
Treatments aside, the best care is preventive care. At 4C Medical Group we are committed to supporting your wellbeing. As part of our diabetes prevention and treatment plan, we now offer diabetic eye exams at our Scottsdale clinic.
If you haven’t had a dilated eye exam in the past year and/or were recently diagnosed with diabetes, please schedule an appointment online or call our office at (480) 455-3000 to schedule your eye exam.
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