Eye Care Should Remain Top Priority for People with Diabetes

Studies show strict control over risk factors can delay, reduce eye disease

DAYTON, Ohio (October 9, 2014) – Eye health should be a top priority for any person with diabetes who wants to create a long-term plan for their health and avoid serious complications.

Diabetes – or the body’s inability to produce or properly use insulin – has a significant impact on a person’s overall health. The disease has a direct correlation to the body’s cardiovascular, renal and digestive system as well as a person’s skin and vision. Diabetics must develop a comprehensive approach to care for their health including their vision, said Michael Chunn, MD, a Premier HealthNet physician practicing in Mason.

“People primarily think diabetes is a number that indicates their blood sugar is too high and they are not aware of all the affects it can have on the body,” Dr. Chunn said. “But once they come to the realization that they have the disease and have developed a system of how to manage it, eye health becomes a very important aspect of diabetes care.”

Retinal disease and cataracts are the most common eye diseases resulting from diabetes, according to the National Eye Institute Off Site Icon. The elevated glucose in a diabetic’s blood vessels in the back of the eye – also known as the retina – can become leaky or weaker causing bleeding in the retina. The result is that the retina becomes less able to acquire light or decipher vision. This is known as diabetic retinopathy – a condition that may lead to blindness when left untreated. 

Diabetes can also cause the eye’s lens to prematurely age promoting cataract formation earlier. Cataracts refer to the clouding of the eyes’ lenses. It usually happens as a person gets older, but can happen at any age, said Edward R. Thomas, MD, FACS, with the Ohio Eyecare Institute Off Site Icon in Oakwood.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) outlines four major steps that diabetics can take to maintain eye health. 

Control blood sugar – The best step diabetics can take is to keep a tight control over their blood sugar levels. In a trial study conducted by the ADA, people on standard diabetes treatment got retinopathy four times as often as people who kept their blood sugar levels close to normal. In people who already had retinopathy, the condition progressed in the tight-control group only half as often, the ADA said.

Control high blood pressure – It is important for diabetics to keep their blood pressure under control because hypertension can make eye problems worse.

Quit smoking – Smoking increases a person’s risk of getting diabetes, but also makes managing the disease much harder for those who already have it. The National Institutes of Health Off Site Icon places smoking cessation at the top of its list for diabetic health.

Have an annual eye exam – A primary care physician can help manage many of the risk factors important to a diabetic – such as blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure – however, an eye specialist (such as an ophthalmologist, optometrist or retinal specialist) is needed to properly evaluate a person’s risk for retinopathy and other eye conditions. This should include an annual exam where the eye is dilated so that the back of the eye can be properly assessed. 

“The eye examination will look for stable blood glucose, vision changes, close examination of the blood vessels in the retina to look for signs and damage of diabetes as well as test for edema or swelling in the back of the eye that is also an indicator of active diabetic eye disease,” said Dr. Thomas, who practices with Premier Health Specialists

The methods used to detect retinopathy as well as its treatment continue to improve. The newest options for treatment include intraocular eye injections (which allow direct application of drugs to the affected area of the eye with minimal side effects), and advanced lasers such as the micropulse, which uses small pulses to treat hemorrhage areas of the retina, Dr. Thomas said. 

Eye exams are not just an important tool for those already diagnosed with diabetes. Ever-evolving modalities are making it possible for physicians like Dr. Thomas to more accurately screen at-risk patients for the disease. These instruments allow for an earlier detection of diabetes, which can often be picked up before any real symptoms present themselves.

For more information on diabetes or to find a Premier HealthNet physician near you, visit www.premierhealthnet.com/doctor.

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