Diabetes affects more than just your blood sugar. The condition affects systems and structures throughout the whole body, including the eyes. Of the roughly 30 million Americans who have Type 1, Type 2, or gestational diabetes, many never consider undergoing regular comprehensive eye exams. At our Westminster and Northglenn, CO, offices, optometrist Dr. Ryan Dugan specializes in diabetic eye care and can perform a diabetic eye exam for patients with the condition, catching the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy in its earliest stages. Without intervention, patients with diabetes-related eye problems can expect their vision to worsen to the point of severe and irreversible vision loss.
Diabetes hinders the body’s ability to control blood sugar effectively, and delicate blood vessels and capillaries in the eyes can be damaged by elevated blood glucose levels. This can lead to a number of serious and potentially blinding eye conditions, including:
Diabetic retinopathy is the Trusted SourceDiabetic RetinopathyNational Eye InstituteGo to Sourceleading cause
of vision loss in people with diabetes, and caused by elevated blood sugar levels from diabetes damaging the small blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Diabetic retinopathy may cause these blood vessels to leak, swell, or close off entirely. It can also cause new, abnormal blood vessels to form, potentially leading to vitreous hemorrhage, retinal detachment, or a serious type of glaucoma called neovascular glaucoma.
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy may not present with symptoms. As damaged blood vessels in the retina continue to leak, symptoms may include:
Changes in vision
Flashers or floaters
Changes to the way color is seen
Dark or empty areas in the field of vision
Macular edema is a serious complication of diabetic retinopathy, and is caused by fluid leaking into the retina. Macular edema can cause blurry vision, wavy central vision, and a dulled appearance to colors.
Retinal detachment is a medical emergency for which diabetic patients are at a higher risk. When the retina pulls away from the rest of the eye, it can cause symptoms such as a sudden increase in flashers and floaters, shadows in the peripheral vision, or the appearance of a gray curtain over part of the visual field. Retinal detachment must be treated promptly in order to prevent Trusted SourceDetached RetinaAmerican Academy of OphthalmologyGo to Sourcevision loss
Patients with diabetes are at a higher risk for premature cataracts. Cataracts cloud the natural lens of the eye and require surgical treatment to restore clear vision.
Patients with diabetes are Trusted SourceDiabetes and Your EyesightGlaucoma Research FoundationGo to Sourcetwice as likely
to develop glaucoma, which is an accumulation of fluid in the front of the eye that causes damage to the optic nerve. There is no cure for glaucoma, but early treatment can help prevent vision loss.
The Importance of Diabetic Eye Exams
It is important for diabetic patients to undergo a comprehensive eye exam every year. The American Diabetes Association reports that diabetes is the leading cause of vision loss in American adults between the ages of 18 and 65. Fortunately, with regular eye exams and proper care by a diabetic eye care expert like Dr. Dugan, up to 95% of vision loss due to diabetes can be Trusted SourceFocus on DiabetesAmerican Diabetes AssociationGo to Sourceprevented
Not all individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes experience early symptoms of eye-related conditions like diabetic retinopathy. However, many do schedule eye exams after having one or more troubling symptoms, including blurry vision, floaters, double vision, or difficulty reading. These symptoms may be a sign that diabetic eye disease has already set in, causing irreversible damage to the eyes. By being proactive about their eye health, diabetes patients can catch serious conditions at their earliest stages, potentially delaying or preventing vision loss Trusted SourceEye ComplicationsAmerican Diabetes AssociationGo to Sourceentirely
Benefits of a yearly diabetic eye exam include:
With the right combination of at-home and in-office care, procedures, and treatments, individuals with diabetic retinopathy and other diabetes-related eye problems can enjoy sharper vision.
Peace of mind
Understanding the causes of vision problems and how to prevent, treat, or delay future issues provides tremendous comfort for patients who are concerned about their eye health.
Diabetes can be a costly disease. Catching its effects early on can allow you to maintain your eyesight with simple, and often less expensive, methods.
What to Expect During Your Diabetic Eye Care Appointment
Even if Dr. Dugan suspects that a patient may have diabetic retinopathy or another problem related to managed or unmanaged diabetes, he will always perform a dilated eye exam before recommending treatment. This will allow him to better visualize the internal structures of the eye including the retina, which is most frequently affected by diabetic eye disease. Once your eyes are dilated, Dr. Dugan may perform:
Optical coherence tomography (OCT): This diagnostic test captures cross-sectional images of your eyes. This allows your doctor to visualize the thickness of the retina and detect damaged blood vessels.
Fluorescein angiography: This involves injecting a dye into the bloodstream. Your doctor will then take photos of the inside of your eye to identify any blocked or damaged blood vessels.
Dilation typically lasts about six hours. As a result, it may be more difficult to focus on near objects during this time. Additionally, it can make driving uncomfortable for some individuals. Therefore, we recommend arranging for a driver or using public transportation the day of your exam.
Bright sunlight and UV rays can damage the eyes. Therefore, you should wear dark sunglasses following your diabetic eye exam.
Frequently Asked Questions About Diabetic Eye Disease
Will insurance cover my diabetic eye exam?
Most medical insurance policies do not cover routine eye exams for non-diabetic patients. However, annual eye exams for patients with diabetes are often determined to be medically necessary, which makes them eligible for coverage.
Is there a cure for diabetic retinopathy?
Unfortunately, there is not a cure for diabetic retinopathy. The best way to prevent progressive vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy is to treat the condition in its earliest stages, which is why regular diabetic eye exams are so important.
Is the threat of diabetic eye disease the same for patients with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?
All patients with diabetes are at risk for diabetic eye conditions, regardless of the type.Per the American Diabetes Association, people who are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes should start diabetic eye exams right away. Patients with Type 1 diabetes, sometimes referred to as juvenile diabetes, should begin annual diabetic eye exams within 5 years of their Trusted SourceStandards of Medical Care in Diabetes-2016 Abridged for Primary Care ProvidersAmerican Diabetes AssociationGo to Sourcediagnosis
Contact Montgomery Eye Care
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, think you might have the early warning signs of diabetes, or are at risk of diabetes, reach out to our practice so that Dr. Dugan can safeguard the health of your eyes and your vision. We are proud to serve patients from Denver and surrounding areas, including Northglenn and Westminster.
Very professional and caring physician, whom I feel very confident in. He is very current on the best treatment for whatever eye issue is going on. Also he has a very kind and helpful staff.
Dr Montgomery has been my ophthalmologist for several years, I highly recommend him. He always takes the time to answer all my questions. He is compassionate to my concerns re eye surgery and I have grown to trust and respect him a lot.
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