The month of November brings fall festivities and the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends. November is also National Diabetes Awareness Month, making this month a time to promote awareness of this prevalent and damaging disease. While many people may be aware that diabetes affects a sizable contingent of the U.S. national population, they might not be aware of the pivotal role eye doctors play in the diagnosis and care of the diabetic patient.
According to Wisconsin Optometric Association president and Wausau optometrist Dr. Jeff Sarazen, “A comprehensive dilated eye examination is crucial to the early detection and prevention of diabetes-related complications.” Doctors of optometry are primary eye care providers; therefore, they play an important role in the care of a diabetic patient. The impact of diabetes on an individual’s overall health, as well as the economic costs placed on the nation in medical services for diabetic patients, is substantial. If left untreated, diabetes can also have incredibly damaging effects on an individual’s vision and eye health. Therefore, the member doctors of the Wisconsin Optometric Association encourage all adults and children to help recognize the month of November as National Diabetes Awareness Month by visiting their local optometrist for a comprehensive vision and eye health examination.
“The eye is the only place on the body that blood vessels can be seen without having to look through skin or tissue,” Dr. Sarazen said. “As a result, optometrists can detect many diseases that affect our blood vessels, such as diabetes, which allows patients to seek treatment before they progress to something more serious.”
There are a growing number of diabetes cases among people who do not actively monitor their diabetes risk. The longer the condition progresses before it is diagnosed, the higher the likelihood the patient could experience serious vision and eye health complications.
One such complication is diabetic retinopathy, the most common diabetes-related eye disease and the leading cause of blindness among American adults. Diabetic retinopathy is the result of damage to the small blood vessels located in the retina, or the light-reflecting tissue in the eye, caused by diabetes. The blood vessels leak blood and other fluids, causing swelling of the retinal tissue and clouded vision. Symptoms of the disease may include fluctuating or blurring of vision, occasional double vision, night vision problems, and flashers/floaters seen by one or both eyes.
Often, there are no obvious symptoms for the patient to recognize in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. Dr. Sarazen says this makes optometrists’ role even more important, as they provide a detailed examination of the eyes as part of their comprehensive care.
Regardless of whether or not one has been diagnosed with diabetes, schedule a comprehensive eye examination with a licensed eye doctor as a component of an overall health care regimen. This is especially crucial if vision becomes blurry, if there is trouble reading signs or books, if vision is double, if pressure is felt in the eyes, straight lines do not look straight, or if peripheral (side) vision is limited.
Other tips for maintaining healthy eyes and preventing diabetes include the following:
• Maintain a healthy diet
• Exercise regularly
• Get high blood pressure and blood sugar levels under control, as both can cause damage to blood vessels
• Quit smoking