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If you have diabetes, chances are you already understand the importance of maintaining your blood sugar and weight, and controlling other aspects of your health. But are you paying attention to your eyes? The same complications from diabetes that cause peripheral neuropathy and other diabetes-related problems are also responsible for vision loss and impairment in diabetics. The most common of these is diabetic retinopathy, which may lead to blindness and can occur without symptoms. If you have diabetes, what can you do to protect your eyes and vision?

HOW DOES DIABETES AFFECT THE EYES?

When it comes to diabetes, paying attention to blood glucose levels is important, but it may be critical for preserving your eye health. Increased levels of blood glucose over a prolonged period of time may cause the blood vessels of the eyes to swell. These swollen blood vessels may become blocked — preventing the structures of the eyes from getting the nutrients and oxygen needed to work properly. In some patients, new blood vessels will form, but they are abnormal structures and more likely to leak blood into the eye — leading to vision loss.

WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS OF EYE DISEASE?

If you have diabetes, you may develop eye disease without experiencing any symptoms at all. However, if you develop any of the following, see your Silverstein Eye Centers doctor for a thorough eye exam:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Difficulty reading signs, books, and other materials
  • Eye pain or sensations of increased pressure in one or both eyes
  • Eye redness that doesn’t go away
  • Spots or floaters in your field of vision
  • Straight lines that don’t appear straight

THE KEY TO MANAGING DIABETIC-RELATED EYE DISEASE

In addition to managing your diabetes, eating a healthy diet, and exercising, the most important thing you can do for your eye health is to visit your Silverstein Eye Centers doctor regularly — at least once per year — and to make an appointment for evaluation right away if you develop any symptoms of any type of eye problem. During your routine eye exam, you can expect to have your pupils dilated, which will allow your eye doctor to get a clear view of the internal structures of the eye. It is often these structures that suffer damage and cause visual impairment.

In addition to regular eye exams, be sure to monitor your blood glucose levels carefully and try to schedule your eye examinations for a time when your blood glucose levels are within a normal range. By ensuring that your blood glucose is at a normal level for your eye examination, you will allow your eye doctor to make the most accurate assessment of your vision possible. This is especially important if you use prescription glasses or contact lenses — as an accurate measurement of your vision is critical for getting you the prescription you need for optimal vision.

RISK FACTORS FOR DEVELOPING DIABETIC RETINOPATHY AND OTHER EYE DISEASES

While diabetes alone is a risk factor for developing diabetic retinopathy, it is important to understand that the blood measure called A1C is also a risk predictor. For every percentage point that A1C goes up, so does risk of developing retinopathy. In addition to diabetic retinopathy, diabetics are more likely to develop dry eye syndrome, cataracts, or glaucoma than the general population. Diabetes and obesity are significant risk factors for all of these eye diseases. If your family members — especially your parents or grandparents — have a history of both eye disease and diabetes, you are also at greater risk.

To learn more about managing your eye health and diabetes, or to schedule your annual eye checkup, call Silverstein Eye Centers today at (816) 358-3600.

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