Diabetic Eye Health: 5 Ways to Protect Your Eyesight

Did you know that both type 1 and 2 diabetes can damage your eyes and cause vision loss? That’s right, the primary cause of blindness in adults ages 20-74 is diabetes.1 In fact, damage can be occurring for years without symptoms. This makes an optometrist an essential part of your healthcare team.

Diabetes patients are not only at risk for diabetic retinopathy, but they are at higher risk to develop cataracts earlier and glaucoma. In fact, early detection and treatment of diabetic retinopathy can reduce the risk of blindness by 95%.1 It’s estimated that 50% of individuals with diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy at some point and everyone with diabetes is at risk for this eye disease.

5 Ways to Avoid Diabetic Eye Disease

  1. Attending Annual Comprehensive Diabetic Eye Exams – This eye exam takes about 30 minutes and is similar to a standard comprehensive eye exam. Your eye doctor will dilate your eyes and focus on the health of your retina and the blood vessels in each eye. Only an eye doctor can perform these exams and they may advise you to increase or decrease your exam frequency depending on how well your blood sugar is being controlled. The eye doctor will report their findings to your primary care doctor.
  2. Controlling Blood Sugar – High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels in the back of your eyes over time and the damage can begin as early as pre-diabetes. Keep your blood sugar under control to lower your risk of eye health related issues.
  3. Controlling Blood Pressure – High blood pressure impacts two-thirds of diabetes patients and increases your risk of retinopathy along with stroke and heart attack. Work with your primary care doctor to manage your blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetic eye diseases.
  4. Controlling Cholesterol – Diabetes can impact cholesterol levels by reducing “good” cholesterol and increasing “bad” cholesterol, which increases the risk of diabetic retinopathy. Managing cholesterol levels is important for overall health and eye health.
  5. Don’t Smoke – The sobering truth is that smoking increases everyone’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.3 For individuals who use insulin, smoking can reduce the effectiveness of insulin requiring more to manage blood sugar and increasing the risk of diabetic eye conditions.4 Free help to quit, call 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit gov/tips. Spanish-speakers can call 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (1-855-335-3569) or visit CDC.gov/consejos.

Common Diabetic Eye Diseases

  • Diabetic Retinopathy is when there is damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye. This damage can cause blur or distortion in your vision, increase in floaters and permanent vision loss if severe.
  • Diabetic Macular Edema is swelling in the macula, which is the part of the retina responsible for your central vision.
  • Glaucoma is caused by increased pressure in the eye, which can damage the optic nerve and can cause peripheral vision loss before noticeable symptoms occur.
  • Cataracts are changes in color or clarity of the lens inside your eye that can cause blurry, cloudy or decreased vision.

Call your optometrist immediately if you have diabetes and experience any of these symptoms:

  • Blurry vision
  • Black spots
  • More floaters than usual
  • Feeling like a curtain is pulled over your visual field
  • Flashes of light
  • Any loss of sight in one or both eyes

1 https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/diabetes-eye-problems
2 https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/diabetic-eye-disease
3 https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/diabetes.html
4 https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/health-effects-tobacco-use/cigarette-smoking-risk-factor-type-2-diabetes

Should I Go to the ER for an Eye Emergency?

If you had an eye health emergency today, do you know where to go for the best and most efficient care? We’ve all had health emergencies arise at one point in time and in most cases rushing to the urgent care or emergency room is appropriate. However, if the health issue is regarding your eyes or vision you may want to rethink your emergency plan. Eye doctors are prepared to treat most eye care emergencies in office and many eye doctors also have after hours care for these emergent eye care cases.

One study found that 25% of ocular ER visits were deemed non-emergencies and could have been handled in-office by an eye doctor. This means that patients paid a higher cost to be seen in the ER  by a general healthcare provider rather than making an appointment with their eye doctor or utilizing the eye doctor’s emergent after-hours care. Individuals were 10% less likely to seek care in an ER for an eye condition if they had an established eye doctor.1 Don’t have an eye doctor? Find a Colorado eye doctor here.

Call your eye care provider first to see if you should be seen by your optometrist or if your situation is better addressed in the emergency department or urgent care. Seeing your eye doctor for an eye emergency is usually best because:

  • Many emergency rooms and urgent care facilities lack the proper equipment for proper eye exams
  • In an emergency room or urgent care facility you will probably see a general health practitioner rather than a specialized eye care professional like your optometrist
  • Misdiagnosis could impact your vision and eye health permanently

“To get the best eye care in an emergency, we recommend that you have an eye health emergency plan. Eye care is essential so it’s important to have an optometrist that you see annually who can also address any eye care issues or emergencies that arise between your annual exams. Make sure your loved ones also have an eye care emergency plan for their own eye health,” says Dr. Jean DeMoss, President of the Colorado Optometric Association’s Board of Directors.

Symptoms Needing Immediate Attention

  • Black spots or flashes of light
  • Curtain-like disappearance of vision
  • Injury/trauma to the eye
  • Eye pain (pain is an indicator of inflammation or injury)
  • Seeing halos or rainbows around light
  • Loss of peripheral (side) vision
  • Sudden hazy or blurred vision
  • Sudden vision loss in one eye
  • Red, crusty or swollen eyelids
  • Pupils are different sizes
  • Sudden double vision

Symptoms Needing an Eye Exam Soon

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Excessive tearing or watering of your eyes
  • Itchy, burning, or dry eyes
  • Difficulty seeing in dark environments
  • Seeing spots or ghost-like images
  • Light sensitivity
  • Eye strain and/or frequent mild headaches

Common Eye Emergencies 

Your local optometrist is prepared to treat these six common eye care emergencies. Give your optometrist a call today to ask about after hours care in the case of a sudden eye care emergency or find a Colorado eye doctor here.

Blunt Eye Trauma

  • Apply a cold compress without putting pressure on the eye to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Severe pain or reduced vision require immediate care from an eye doctor.

Eye Cut, Puncture or Foreign Body to the Eye or Eyelid

  • Do not attempt to remove an object from your eye or eyelid.
  • Do not wash out the eye for punctures, cuts or foreign bodies.
  • Do not bandage the eye.
  • Do not rub the eye.
  • Protect the eye with a rigid shield, like sunglasses or the bottom half of a paper cup and see an eye doctor immediately.

Chemical Burn of the Eye

  • Flush eye(s) thoroughly with saline (preferably) or water for 15 minutes and get to an eye care professional immediately.
  • For individuals with contact lenses, attempt to remove them first.
  • Do not try to neutralize the chemical with another chemical or substance.

Sudden Vision Changes or Loss

Address quickly with your optometrist to avoid permanent vision loss and rule out more serious health issues like stroke, nerve damage, neurological issues, and retinal or corneal defects.

Red Eye

  • Red eye with discharge needs to be examined by an optometrist as soon as possible for correct identification and treatment for the type of conjunctivitis (pink eye). Emergency rooms have a history of overprescribing antibiotics for conjunctivitis when 80% of cases are viral.
  • Red eye could also indicate uveitis or ocular herpes, which can be sight-threatening making quick and proper evaluation by an eye doctor important.

Pupils are Different Sizes (pupil anisocoria)

  • If you were born with this condition it is benign.
  • If this is a new symptom, whether it’s constant or sporadic, schedule an exam with your optometrist as soon as possible as this could be vision threatening.

1 https://www.aaojournal.org/article/S0161-6420(16)31631-1/fulltext

10 Eye Health Myths That May Be Impacting Your Eyes

Colorado’s doctors of optometry are clearing up 10 common myths about vision and eye health that could be negatively impacting your health. Understanding your eye health is key for preserving vision and comprehensive eye exams are your best chance at early detection of eye health issues and over 270 other health conditions. 

Myth 1: Dry, scratchy and/or red eyes are just part of living in Colorado since we live in an arid climate
Colorado’s climate easily accelerates the evaporation of tears that we produce and can contribute to dry eye disease, but the actual cause of producing fewer tears is unknown. Dry eyes can also be influenced by hormonal changes, some medications, other illness/disease and aging. However, dry eyes and dry eye disease are treatable and preventable even in Colorado. If you have dry, scratchy, gritty, and/or red eyes from time to time a lubricating eye drop can provide relief. If you experience dry eyes more frequently or are experiencing increasing discomfort then getting an eye exam with your optometrist is recommended to fully understand and address your symptoms.

Myth 2: Not everyone gets cataracts
Actually, everyone is prone to cataracts if they live long enough and most cataracts are age-related. More than half of Americans over the age of 80 have experienced cataracts and your risk for cataracts increases after age 40. Stave off the onset of cataracts by not smoking/vaping tobacco, limit alcohol, reduce UVA/B exposure by wearing sunglasses and a hat, and eat a balanced diet with leafy greens, berries, and nuts.

Myth 3: An eye exam is only needed if I am having a vision problem
This is not true. Many eye health challenges can be present without symptoms, but these eye conditions can be quietly progressing until an individual’s vision is threatened and symptoms arise. To put this in perspective, 80% of all retinal disease is asymptomatic. Your eye health plan should include annual comprehensive eye exams for early detection and management of eye health diseases and conditions. A comprehensive eye exam looks at more than just vision acuity and can uncover over 270 other health conditions that other exams can’t detect like some cancers, many auto immune diseases, hypertension, stroke risk and more.

Myth 4: If you cross your eyes they will stay that way
This is simply not true. Misalignment of the eyes is called Strabismus and is typically due to an underlying health condition. Strabismus can be corrected with glasses and/or surgery and does not occur from simply crossing your eyes.

Myth 5: If I eat more carrots my eyes will get better
While carrots hold great nutrients for your eyes, they are best used in a balanced diet to prevent eye health issues and do not aid in correcting existing vision or eye health issues. In fact, when it comes to eye health prevention is key because most eye health and vision issues can only be managed/corrected and not cured once they are present.

Myth 6: If you wear glasses your eyes will get worse
Your eyes change due to genetics, outside influences like computer use etc, not from seeing clearly. Some individuals feel that their vision is worse when they take off their glasses. What happens in these cases is that the glasses are working well to correct your vision and when you take the glasses off your brain is telling you that it likes the help of glasses. Remember that your brain plays a large part in your vision too.

Myth 7: If you don’t wear glasses your eyes get worse
Your eyes change due to genetics, outside influences like computer use etc, not from seeing blurry. Not wearing glasses or contacts leads to eye strain from not seeing clearly.

Myth 8: If I wait to get reading glasses in my 40’s I will keep my eyes stronger longer
This theory only creates eye strain and eye fatigue. Age-related vision changes like the changes that occur after age 40, are due to the lens in your eye losing elasticity as you age. These vision changes are not due to a muscle that is losing tone.

Myth 9: Contact lenses can get lost in your eye or go into your brain
There is no way for contacts to get lost in your eye. They can be hard to find, but they are there.

Myth 10: I can’t wear contacts because I have an astigmatism
Astigmatism occurs in 90% of the population and it is dealt with as easily as nearsightedness. Most people can be fit with contact lenses, but you can also correct an astigmatism with glasses or laser eye surgery.

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