Keeping Your Eyesight
By A.Paul Chous, MA, OD, FAAO
This March marks the 80th anniversary of National Save Your Vision Month, a collaborative effort to raise Americans' awareness of eye and vision disorders, their diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. For those of us with diabetes, the key messages of this annual campaign are especially important:
- Surveys indicate that eyesight is the one sense that Americans fear losing most.
- Preventative maintenance, through regular eye examinations designed to detect problems early, and healthy lifestyle choices, is the best way to preserve a lifetime of of good vision and is especially effective when started at an early age (eat more fruits and vegetables, avoid processed/packaged foods, don't smoke, and exercise at least thirty minutes each day.)
- Wearing appropriate prescription lenses does not worsen vision and improves school, workplace, athletic, and driving performance.
- Because the eyes are connected to the rest of the body by the circulatory and nervous systems, many systemic medical conditions are often first detected during routine eye examinations, including high blood pressure, thryoid problems, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and even brain tumors.
- A corollary to the last point is that if you are prescribed medications to treat medical problems like diabetes or high blood pressure, make sure you take them as prescribed — not doing so may quite literally put both your sight and life in jeopardy.
- Many serious eye conditions cause few or no symptoms until significant damage and permanent vision loss have occurred; this is especially true for eye disorders commonly caused by diabetes.
- Serious eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration are more common past the age of 60 and in people with a family history of these diseases, but people with diabetes often develop vision threatening eye problems at a younger age.
- Eye complications caused by diabetes are the leading cause of severe vision loss and blindness in working aged Americans.
- Most cases of severe vision loss and blindness due to diabetes are preventable with regular eye care and good diabetes control (remember the ABCs of good diabetes management — keep your A1c test results as close to the normal range as is safely possible; keep your Blood pressure well controlled; keep your blood Cholesterol well controlled).
- Routine eye examinations by an optometrist or ophthalmologist — at least yearly — allow for early diagnosis of diabetes related eye disease and timely treatment before patients develop symptoms.
I will close with the story of a patient with diabetes I examined several weeks ago who demonstrates the importance of the key messages above. The patient complained of "sudden" onset vision loss, had not had an eye exam in five years, hadn’t seen any doctor in three years, and had discontinued taking prescribed diabetes medications. My examination revealed large vitreous hemorrhages in each eye and fibrovascular scar tissue consistent with a diagnosis of severe proliferative diabetic retinopathy, a condition the severity of which had taken some time to develop. The patient required surgical intervention by a retinal specialist, but the prognosis for restoring vision is poor. Perhaps most tragically, this very nice patient is merely in the third decade of life.
If you have diabetes — save your vision — please be sure you get your eyes thoroughly examined at least annually, or as often as your eye doctor recommends.
For more information on diabetic eye disease, consult Dr. Chous’ book Diabetic Eye Disease: Lessons From a Diabetic Eye Doctor, Fairwood Press, Seattle, 2003.
Read more about Dr. Chous here.
Visit Dr. Chous' website here.
NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.
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