WHY AN EYE EXAM MAY TELL YOUR DOCTOR MORE THAN YOU’D THINK by Nathan Lurz-Posted by Kathy O’Neill, RN, Parish Nurse
More than 30 million U.S. adults have diabetes and 84.1 million (1 in 3) – have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Millions of those do not even know they have it.
One of the most important pieces in fighting the damage caused by diabetes or reversing it is early management and detection. And one of the first places a medical professional can detect diabetes is in the eye.
A routine eye exam examines every part of the eye and has long been a source of early diagnoses. It is the only organ of the body that does not require an invasive procedure to examine.
That makes it a great first diagnosing point for diseases including high blood pressure, arthritis, high cholesterol, hypertension, cancer, sickle cell anemia, heart disease and possibly even Alzheimer’s, says Dr. Osvaldo Lopez, chief of the ophthalmology section at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, Ill.
“I have seen many patients who have never been diagnosed complaining of blurry vision,” he says. “Whenever they tell me they have been getting new prescriptions every few months, I know to start looking for diabetes.”
Chronically high blood sugar from diabetes can damage the tiny blood vessels in the retina, leading to a condition called diabetic retinopathy, according to the National Eye Institute. The retina detects light and converts it to signals sent through the optic nerve to the brain. Diabetic retinopathy can cause blood vessels in the retina to leak fluid or hemorrhage (bleed), distorting vision, and is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes.
Dr. Lopez says the vision of thousands of Americans are lost every year due to unmanaged diabetes.
“Diabetes is a horrific disease – real ticking time bomb,” he says. “As it advances, it becomes more difficult to treat. But diabetes does not hurt like a herniated disk or cut, so people are often slow to get it checked. But it can cause a lot damage to multiple organs.”
Dr. Lopez urges most adult patients through the age of 60 to get their eyes checked at least every two years, if not every year. Those with diabetes should be checked every six months. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and wearing sunglasses when necessary can also help maintain good eye health. He also advises seeing an eye doctor as soon as possible, if you are experiencing blurry or double vision, itching, red eye or sensitivity to light, among other irritants.
“Unfortunately, so many people don’t seek out eye exams,” he says. “It can tell them so much, but by the time we get them, it is often too late.”