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Keeping an EYE on Health Care

Wait, I’ve never heard of ‘diabetic retinopathy.’

I’m inquisitive about many things. I was the kind of child who used to exhaust my doctors with so many HOW, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and WHY questions that I not only exhausted the docs, but I often exhausted the time available for an actual exam.

As I have gotten older, I have become even more curious about the various healthcare issues that affect those of us “of a certain again.” The fact that you are holding this publication likely means YOU have also learned what I discovered at a very early age: each of us is our own best healthcare advocate.

When I was asked to write about “diabetic retinopathy,” I agreed out of personal NEED. Though I am a healthcare-facts junkie, I knew NOTHING about this condition—and diabetes runs in my family.

As everyone must be cautious when seeking credible medical information online, I was directed (through an industry referral) to websites for the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic. What I discovered—pardon the pun—was very “eye opening.” I knew even less than I thought.

Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye conditions that can affect people with diabetes, such as cataract and glaucoma. Though most of us have heard these terms before, I immediately wondered how many could define them if asked. (Before today, I certainly could not).

Cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens. Adults with diabetes are 2-5 times more likely than those without diabetes to develop cataract. Cataracts can also develop at an earlier age in people with diabetes. Glaucoma refers to a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve—the bundle of nerve fibers that connects the eye to the brain. Some types of glaucoma are associated with elevated pressure inside the eye. In adults, diabetes nearly doubles the risk of glaucoma.

Diabetic retinopathy affects blood vessels in the retina—the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye. It causes blood vessels in the retina to leak fluid or hemorrhage (bleed), therefore distorting vision. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness in adults and can also lead to diabetic macular edema: swelling in an area of the retina.

Those with type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes are all at risk. Between 40 and 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some sort of diabetic retinopathy, though many are completely unaware.

Next, I sought the advice of an expert: Ophthalmologist Dr. Timothy Quinn of Physicians Regional Medical Group, who shared some key points with me:

“Patients can reduce their risk of blindness by keeping their blood sugars well controlled, and reducing all risk factors to cardiovascular health including treating serum lipid abnormalities and systemic hypertension as well as avoiding tobacco use.

Symptoms of diabetic eye disease that patients may notice late in the disease include floaters, blurriness and loss of vision. Early disease, the best time to treat, is often asymptomatic.

While the onus for preventing diabetic eye disease falls on the patient and their primary care physician, treatments have advanced tremendously for diabetic retinopathy and therefore annual (at a minimum) exams with an ophthalmologist are recommended to detect the earliest signs of damage.

Though publications such as Health & Wellness do a tremendous job at educating the public, one thing has not changed. Nothing beats the advice of a gifted, dedicated physician.

For more information about ophthalmology services at Physicians Regional Healthcare System, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Quinn, please call 239-348-4221.

Facts About Diabetic Eye Disease Points to Remember
1.    Diabetic eye disease comprises a group of eye conditions that affect people with diabetes. These conditions include diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema (DME), cataract, and glaucoma.
2.    All forms of diabetic eye disease have the potential to cause severe vision loss and blindness.
3.    Diabetic retinopathy involves changes to retinal blood vessels that can cause them to bleed or leak fluid, distorting vision.
4.    Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes and a leading cause of blindness among working-age adults.
5.    DME is a consequence of diabetic retinopathy that causes swelling in the area of the retina called the macula.
6.    Controlling diabetes—by taking medications as prescribed, staying physically active, and maintaining a healthy diet—can prevent or delay vision loss.
7.    Because diabetic retinopathy often goes unnoticed until vision loss occurs, people with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.
8.    Early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up care of diabetic eye disease can protect against vision loss.
9.    Diabetic retinopathy can be treated with several therapies, used alone or in combination.
10. National Eye Institute supports research to develop new therapies for diabetic retinopathy, and to compare the effectiveness of existing therapies for different patient groups.

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