Published on March 01, 2016

Keep Your Eye On Managing Diabetes

It’s a problem you won’t see coming, but you can stop it from ever happening by managing or preventing diabetes.

When we talk about complications of diabetes, most people can easily name kidney disease and loss of feeling and circulation in your limbs. But there’s another complication, and it’s every bit as life-changing as those problems: Loss of eyesight from diabetic eye disease.

But there’s also very good news about diabetic eye disease: When detected early, it can be treated and permanent damage may be minimized.

How It Works

The retina is a cluster of very sophisticated nerve cells at the back of the eyes, which translates what your eye sees into signals your brain can understand. The retina, and the eye itself, are supported by a network of tiny blood vessels.

Diabetic eye disease happens when those blood vessels are damaged by the effects of uncontrolled diabetes. Over time, this can cause damage to and scarring of the retina, or swelling around the retina. It can also cause problems like glaucoma or cataracts.

Anyone with diabetes is at risk for diabetic eye disease, and the risk increases over time. It’s also a slow-progressing problem, with no symptoms until the disease is very advanced. By the time you start noticing a loss of vision, the problem is permanent and can’t be repaired.

Knowledge Is Power

One of the keys to preventing diabetic eye disease, or to stop it from worsening, is to look for it in the first place. That’s where retinal screening and eye exams come in. They are an easy, non-invasive way to look for the problems associated with diabetic eye disease, and most insurance carriers will cover an annual diabetic eye exam.

During a comprehensive diabetic eye exam an ophthalmologist or optometrist looks for signs or symptoms of diabetic eye disease and other problems. For those with diabetes, it’s important to get this exam at least once a year. The exam is painless, though one part involves pupil dilation, which may cause blurry vision or sensitivity to light for a few hours.

There’s also another option: An IRIS (Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems) exam. An IRIS scanner takes a picture of the eye of the patient and analyzes it for signs of diabetic eye disease. The IRIS scan is available at Owensboro Health Medical Group Family Medicine on Parrish Avenue and Owensboro Health Medical Group Family Medicine on Breckenridge Street in Owensboro, and at Owensboro Health Medical Group Family Medicine at Multicare in Madisonville.

The scan, which takes about 10 minutes to complete, can then be given to the patient. We also can send it to the patient’s primary care provider, who can offer assistance with managing diabetes or arranging treatment for early stages of diabetic eye disease.

Helping Yourself

If you have diabetes, the greatest deciding factor in your eye and overall health is what you do for yourself. We can treat early stages of diabetic eye disease with medications or laser surgery, but these treatments become more expensive and less effective as the disease worsens.

You are the one who makes the difference. Watching your diet, keeping your blood sugar under control, increasing your physical activity and monitoring your health overall are essential. It’s also important to work closely with your primary care provider and other experts, including dietitians and diabetes educators like me. We have a wide range of resources and tools to help you help yourself.

If you have questions about diabetic eye disease and how to manage it, talk to your primary care provider. There’s a lot that can be done to make sure you can see your future clearly.

Melissa Gaither is a dietitian and diabetes educator with Owensboro Health Community Wellness & Education. This article was originally published in the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer.

About Owensboro Health

Owensboro Health is a nonprofit health system with a mission to heal the sick and to improve the health of the communities it serves in Kentucky and Indiana. The system includes Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, nationally recognized for design, architecture and engineering; Owensboro Health Muhlenberg Community Hospital; Owensboro Health Twin Lakes Medical Center; the Owensboro Health Medical Group comprised of over 350 providers at more than 30 locations; three outpatient Healthplex facilities, a certified medical fitness facility, the Healthpark; a weight management program, and the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center.

On average each year, we have more than 19,000 inpatient admissions, deliver 2,000 babies and provide the region’s only Level III NICU. Owensboro Health physicians perform nearly 33,000 surgical procedures, including nearly 150 open-heart surgeries. Our physicians and staff have 90,000 Emergency Department visits and more than 1.25 million outpatient visits annually. Visit our home page for more information.