Diabetic Retinopathy: Early Diagnosis, Testing, and Regular Eye Exams

October 20, 2017 Jeanette Stern

A recent report by the CDC states that over 100 million individuals in the U.S. have diabetes, a relatively staggering,yet true, statistic. With the onset of the disease comes a plethora of connected health issues, such as circulation problems, skin problems, and, more prominently, eye problems. About 33% of people living with diabetes or pre-diabetes have diabetic retinopathy, and roughly the same percentage of those with the disease have severe vision problems. Through careful examination, regular eye care, and research, navigating diabetic retinopathy is easier and more efficient when looking into treatment options and rehabilitation.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetes causes an onset of the disease "diabetic retinopathy," a disease that occurs in those with or developing diabetic symptoms when abnormal blood-glucose levels damage the veins in the retina. The disease causes these delicate veins to rupture and hemorrhage, or impede the flow of blood to other parts of the eye. These changes to the structure of the eye impair, reduce, or completely remove the ability to see in some serious cases. As eye problems and macular degeneration are common problems of diabetics, this disease occurs in stages:

Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy: The most common occurrence of the disease. Blurry vision caused by swelling and ruptures in the retina. Mild in comparison. Manageable through treatment.

Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy: Next stage of diabetic retinopathy. Affects peripherals as well as main vision, causes "floaters" and carries the risk of a detached retina. Notable vision problems that affect daily life.

How is testing and diagnosing for diabetic retinopathy done?

An ophthalmologist tests for diabetic retinopathy by dilating the eyes and performing an inspection of the tissues. To enlarge the pupils, the doctor uses special drops and looks for key signs that something is wrong. Among these tell-tale signs are swollen, abnormal veins, blood, or detachment of the retina. Because the damage may have already been done, the doctor may call for further testing to review the depth and take note of any problematic areas. Since the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy worsen with the onset of diabetic symptoms, regular eye exams are necessary to keep the eyes in good condition. Identifying areas that are at a high risk for becoming more damaged are typically analyzed and corrected first, while other areas are monitored carefully for any changes.

How do regular eye exams and diabetes go together?

An eye exam unveils many vision problems, from cataracts to degenerating vision. By staying current on eye exams, any new change in vision, prescription strength, or otherwise is monitored for abnormality, and all changes are documented prior to diagnosis. A visual acuity test, a procedure that defines how detailed a patient's sight is, is administered regularly to diabetic patients to monitor macular degeneration and vision changes, key factors in diagnosing diabetic retinopathy. An eye exam by a primary care physician is not enough, however-- a dilated eye test must be done by an ophthalmologist in order to be considered detailed enough to detect early symptoms of diabetic eye problems.

Fortunately, diabetic retinopathy is generally manageable through treatment and is only vision-threatening if left unchecked or undiagnosed. Regular eye exams, regardless of the current state of your health, are important for diagnosing diseases that go unnoticed with a normal physician, and can even detect diabetic symptoms before a patient is actually diagnosed with the disease. Those with diabetes should consider regular testing for glaucoma and cataracts, both caused by high blood sugar and irregular monitoring. Living with diabetes can mean more frequent health checkups and regular testing, however, symptoms of the disease are much more easily managed when they are understood properly. 

Contact us today for more information.

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