Why You Want an Ophthalmologist on Your Diabetic Care Team Submitted by Atlanta Vision Cataract and Laser Center on May 7, 2019

If you have diabetes, you need an ophthalmologist on your team for one vital reason: to prevent vision loss and blindness. It’s that simple and that serious. High blood sugar levels significantly increase your risk for developing diabetic eye disease, which is a group of conditions that lead to loss of vision and blindness.

Diabetic eye disease doesn’t cause any symptoms until you start to lose your vision. But when you come in for routine eye exams at Atlanta Vision Cataract & Laser Center, we can identify the earliest signs of disease and immediately begin vision-saving treatment.

Reasons patients with diabetes need an ophthalmologist

You need an ophthalmologist on your diabetic care team to lower your risk of diabetic eye diseases such as:

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss among Americans aged 20-74. Studies show that most patients with diabetes don’t get annual eye exams. As a result, 80% of patients with Type 1 diabetes have diabetic retinopathy after 15 years and 53-84% of those with Type 2 diabetes have the disease within 19 years.

Cataracts and glaucoma

Retinopathy isn’t the only eye disease to worry about. You’re also at risk for:

  • Cataracts: Diabetics are two to five times more likely to develop cataracts compared to those who don’t have the disease
  • Glaucoma: Diabetics have double the risk of glaucoma compared to those who don’t have the disease

Your overall risk for eye disease depends on the length of time you’ve had diabetes, how well you maintain healthy levels of blood sugar, and whether you get routine eye care.

How diabetic retinopathy leads to vision loss and blindness

When your blood sugar stays higher than normal, it gradually damages small blood vessels in your eyes. Blood vessel damage leads to progressive stages of retinopathy:

Nonproliferative stage

The blood vessels in your retina start to develop aneurysms, or enlarged areas, that cause swelling and block blood flow to the retina. Then the damaged vessels begin to leak. As fluids accumulate under the retina, the macula becomes swollen. This is a condition called diabetic macular edema.  

The macula is a tiny area in your retina that’s responsible for your central vision, most of your color vision, and your ability to see fine details. Damage to this area is the most common cause of vision loss in patients with diabetic retinopathy.

Proliferative stage

The nonproliferative stage can progressively worsen and enter the proliferative stage. During this stage, new blood vessels grow in the retina, trying to replace those that are blocked. But these new blood vessels are weak, so they start to leak, and the resulting leakage causes scar tissue.

When scar tissue builds up, the retina can detach, tearing away from the underlying tissues that provide support and nourishment. Without prompt treatment, retinal detachment leads to blindness.

Routine eye exams prevent diabetic eye disease

Diabetic eye diseases develop gradually over years of high blood sugar. That means you have time to prevent eye problems or slow their progression, but you can only do that by scheduling routine eye exams.

During your eye exam, we dilate your pupils and carefully assess the structures inside your eye. We can see the earliest signs of diabetic eye disease long before you have symptoms by identifying small changes in your blood vessels and retina. As soon as we detect a problem, we can take proactive steps to help prevent the problem from worsening.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that patients with Type 1 diabetes get a comprehensive eye exam five years after their diagnosis, while those with Type 2 diabetes should schedule their first exam as soon as they’re diagnosed. Both groups should get a follow-up exam every year.

At Atlanta Vision Cataract & Laser Center, we specialize in preventing and treating diabetic eye disease, and we’d be honored to join your diabetic care team. We coordinate with you and your primary care doctor to help you manage blood sugar and keep your eyes and body healthy. To schedule an appointment, call us or book through our online system.

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