Eye exam

UK HealthCare experts discuss treatment of diabetic eye disease

November is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month. UK HealthCare Advanced Eye Care and the UK HealthCare Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center would like to increase awareness of diabetic eye disease and urge everyone to get a yearly eye exam.

Diabetes affects about 1 in 10 Americans. According to the National Eye Institute, more than half of people with diabetes will eventually develop diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes, is caused by elevated blood sugar levels, which can result in damage to blood vessels in the retina. Diabetic retinopathy can occur in people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes and is the leading cause of new onset blindness in adults.

Chlodys Johnstone, PA-C, CDCES, UK Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center, explains that while diabetes is a lifelong disease, patients can mitigate complications like diabetic retinopathy with proper education and live healthy and fulfilling lives. Understanding your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy is key when managing diabetes and eye health.

Several factors can increase your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, including the duration of your diabetes, hyperglycemia and hypertension.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with diabetes, there are important steps to take to avoid eye damage.

These include but are not limited to:  

  1. Controlling your blood sugar and maintaining a good A1C.
  2. Controlling your blood pressure.
  3. Controlling your cholesterol.
  4. Receiving a yearly eye exam – this ensures early detection, which allows for prompt treatment to prevent permanent damage.

Eric Higgins, MD, UK Advanced Eye Care, says that diabetic retinopathy does not always cause severe vision problems when first detected.

“Diabetic retinopathy starts with a mild stage that is completely asymptomatic with no noticeable vision changes, which is why regular eye exams are so important for early detection. It can progress to moderate and severe stages. As the condition worsens, it can begin to impact vision and, if left untreated for long enough, it can lead to permanent and total vision loss.”

Having a strong relationship with your providers and being aware of your symptoms is important for disease management.

Partnership is important when managing diabetes and eye health.

“My advice to patients with diabetes is to partner with their clinician to develop a lifestyle and medication regimen that maximizes the time their blood sugar and blood pressure are in range,” Johnstone says.

Diabetic retinopathy can be treated in several ways. Treatment plans will be determined by the severity of the retinopathy when detected. These treatments include intravitreal injections of medicine, retina laser treatment, or surgery for advanced cases. Complications such as bleeding inside the eye, accumulation of fluid in the retina, a sudden increase in intraocular pressure and retinal detachment can occur because of diabetic retinopathy.

Ana Bastos de Carvalho, MD, and Christopher Turski, MD UK Advanced Eye Care, urge patients who are impacted by eye disease to seek treatment as soon as possible.

“Treatment for diabetic eye disease is very effective when done in time and can prevent severe vision loss in 9 out of 10 patients,” Dr. Turski said.  

Bastos de Carvalho and Turski encourage yearly eye exams, calling them a “necessity,” because having diabetes increases your risk for cataracts and forms of glaucoma. It is also important to exercise regularly, practice healthy eating habits, avoid smoking and take your diabetes medications as directed. Every patient with diabetes should follow-up regularly with their primary care provider or endocrinologist.

UK HealthCare provides patients the convenience of receiving all treatment in one location. Our providers at UK Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center and UK Advanced Eye Care are committed to ensuring patients get the care necessary to manage their diabetes and eye health.

To learn more about treatment options visit https://ukhealthcare.uky.edu/.

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