Orlando F. Mills, MD, MPH

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If you have Diabetes, you are at a higher risk of developing eye disease. Because of this, you should have a comprehensive eye examination by an eye care professional at least once a year.

What kinds of eye problems affect people with Diabetes?

Cataracts. Cataracts are the clouding of the eye's lens that causes vision to become blurry. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop a cataract as those who do not have the disease. In addition, cataracts tend to develop at an earlier age in people with diabetes and progress faster compared to those without the disease.

Glaucoma. Glaucoma results from an increase in fluid pressure inside the eye that leads to progressive damage and loss of vision. People with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to develop glaucoma as others without diabetes.

Diabetic Retinopathy. This disease, which is specific to people with diabetes, damages blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye which affects vision. There are no early symptoms of onset, and it usually effects both eyes. Only an eye exam can identify diabetic retinopathy. Irreversible vision problems occur as the disease progresses. Diabetic retinopathy is the most serious diabetic eye disease. The National Eye Institute estimates nearly half of the millions of Americans with diabetes have some degree of diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness.

Who is most likely to get diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy can develop in anyone who has type I or type II diabetes. The longer you have diabetes, and the less controlled your blood sugars are, the more likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy. Having high blood pressure along with diabetes can further increase your risk.

What are the symptoms?

It is possible to have diabetic retinopathy and not know it. Many people with diabetic retinopathy do not have any early symptoms. In fact, many people do not develop vision problems until the disease has reached an advanced stage. Once this point has been reached, the vision that is lost cannot be restored.

Warning Signs

Call Dr. Mills if you experience any of the following:

  1. Blurred vision for more than one day
  2. Fluctuating vision
  3. Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes
  4. Dark or empty areas in your vision
  5. See black spots, cobwebs or flashes of lights
  6. Difficulty with color perception

Can diabetic retinopathy be prevented?

Your risk of developing retinopathy can be greatly reduced, but not fully prevented. The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) demonstrated that excellent control of blood sugar levels slows the onset and progression of retinopathy.  The study found that people with diabetes who kept their blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible had much slower rates of developing eye, kidney and nerve diseases.

Self-care Prevention

  1. Monitor and control your blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage your eyes. Have your health care provider check your blood pressure at least four times a year. If your blood pressure is higher than 130/80, you may want to check your blood pressure regularly at home.
  2. Get regular eye exams. Even if your sight appears fine, you still need regular eye exams to prevent or treat early changes.   
  3. If you are pregnant and have diabetes, see an eye doctor during your first three months.
  4. If you are planning to get pregnant, ask your eye doctor if you should have an exam prior to starting.
  5. Don't smoke. Tobacco use increases your risk for developing diabetes related complications.

How is diabetic retinopathy treated?

Your eye care professional may suggest laser treatments, which aim a high-energy beam of light onto the retina to shrink the abnormal vessels. Laser treatments have proven to reduce the risk of severe vision loss from diabetic retinopathy by 60 percent. For more advanced cases where laser treatment might not be suitable, there is also eye surgery to stop further progression of damage from the disease.

However, these treatments cannot restore vision that has already been lost. That is why early detection of diabetic retinopathy is the best way to prevent vision loss.

Follow up reports are needed!

If you have Diabetes, Type I or Type II, see your eye care professional for a yearly diabetic eye examination.  Ask your eye care professional to send their report to Dr. Mills for your comprehensive medical record maintained in our office.