You Have to Keep Your Eyes Open

Why going to the eye doctor once a year can make big difference

MannyBy Manny Hernandez


Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!

September 2008 — A recent study published by a team from Johns Hopkins University made me feel very concerned: researchers found that many Latinos with diabetes are not aware that eye disease is one of the potential complications of diabetes. As a result, only 30% of diabetic participants in the study had had an eye examination in the previous year. Reading this made me open my eyes (no pun intended) to the importance of regular eye exams!

Why is eye disease a big problem? It turns out that diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults ages 20 to 74, according to the American Optometric Association. I want to grow old being able to see my children and my grandchildren, so I will do whatever it takes to avoid losing my vision to diabetes. Clearly, this starts with managing my blood sugars so as to keep them as close to normal as possible, but it also involves getting an eye exam every year.

I am not going to say that having your pupils dilated is a fun moment: it is not. You sit and wait for the best part of an hour until your pupils are dilated enough. In the meantime, you can't read a page in front of you, which makes the wait a bit boring. The doctor eventually takes a peak inside your eyes with a light that makes you feel like a deer and when all is done, you need someone to drive you home while you wear sunglasses all the way back so you don't have to pull a "Mr. Magoo."

It may sound a bit dramatic, but going to the eye doctor once a year to have him look inside your eyes is a very small inconvenience when you stop to consider how much it can help you. As dLife columnist and Optometrist, Dr. Paul Chous puts it: "if you have serious eye disease caused by diabetes, the odds of it being detected and treated are much greater if your pupils are dilated and much lower if they are not."

In the Johns Hopkins study, 50% of participants reported having providers who do not speak Spanish as a barrier to care. This can be an issue, but if you cannot see a Spanish-speaking provider, either talking to the administrative staff or nurses in the doctor's office to see if they have someone who speaks Spanish or asking a friend or a relative who is fluent in English to come along can help overcome the language barrier.

Not seeing an eye doctor once a year when you have diabetes is really not an option. Diabetic retinopathy is only one of the complications that can arise: cataracts and glaucoma can also result from poor blood glucose control. To this point, keeping your average blood sugar as close to 100 as possible and keeping your hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c) level below 6.5% are two of the ways to avoid losing your vision to diabetes.

As many diabetics with eye problems can tell you, in spite of the availability of laser therapy as a means for preventing and minimizing vision loss resulting from retinopathy, the impact on the quality of life is not worth "going there."

So, if you haven't seen an eye doctor lately, why don't you look for an optometrist or an ophthalmologist in your area? It will literally open your eyes to a healthier life with diabetes.

dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: May 28, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
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