If you are like many people with diabetes, you probably don’t regularly have a dilated eye exam. But if you knew that it could help prevent 95 percent of diabetes-related vision loss, would you do that?
The National Eye Institute, which is a part of the federal government’s National Institute of Health, tells us that early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of blindness by 95 percent. Diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness if you don’t get it treated on time.
My scary diagnosis
About six or seven years ago, my ophthalmologist (a doctor who specializes in medical and surgical eye care) told me that he had found two microaneurysms in my left eye that he hadn’t seen in my previous annual eye exams. These tiny swellings in the walls of blood vessels in the eye are closely associated with diabetic retinopathy.
After I learned in 1994 that I have Type 2 diabetes, no diagnosis has ever scared me more. Consequently, I redoubled my efforts to manage my blood glucose, which was already below 6.0 (a level often considered to be normal), and I brought it down to 5.1 in my most recent A1C test. At the same time, my doctor told me to get my eyes checked every six months. I have been doing that ever since then, even though the microaneurysms disappeared three or four years ago.
Not frightened of going blind?
Most of us who have diabetes don’t seem to be as frightened by going blind as I am. Researchers at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia found that 58 percent of the people who have Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes were skipping these exams. The researchers studied the records of 1,968 people with diabetes who were older than 40.
Ann P. Murchison, M.D., M.P.H., and her team presented these findings in October 2016 to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. She is the director of the Wills Eye Emergency Department and associate professor of ophthalmology at Thomas Jefferson University.
Vision loss is preventable
“Vision loss is tragic, especially when it is preventable,” Dr. Murchison said. “That’s why we want to raise awareness and ensure people with diabetes understand the importance of regular eye exams.”
This good news about how you can save your eyes is especially timely. November is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month. Everyone who has diabetes is at a heightened risk for visual impairment from diabetic retinopathy.
The National Eye Institute states that at least 40 percent of Americans who have been diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy, although only about half are aware of it. About eight million of us have this complication, but you don’t have to be in that number when you get your regular dilated eye exam.
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David Mendosa is a journalist who learned in 1994 that he has Type 2 diabetes, which he now writes about exclusively. He has written thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and publishes the monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, current A1C level of 5.1, and BMI of 19.8 keeps his diabetes in remission without any drugs.