Ask adults how much thought they gave to their health when they were younger,
and many will admit they had a false sense of security. For young diabetics,
this same sense can lead to a multitude of health and quality of life
issues down the road, including irreversible vision loss.
Key-Whitman Eye Center's Dallas Ophthalmologist Kimberly Warren, M.D., “Many young people with diabetes assume because they feel good
and haven’t faced any health consequences, they are in good health.
On top of that, they’re busy with work, friends and family, and
getting to the eye doctor isn’t on the top of their priority list
– but it should be.”
In a recent report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
young patients with diabetes get fewer eye exams than their older counterparts. In fact, only 38.2 percent of 18- to 39-year-olds
surveyed had seen an eye doctor in the past 12 months. The CDC warns that
young people with diabetes risk costly health care expenses down the road
if the put off regular health screenings and therapeutic services.
Young diabetics often underestimate their heightened risk for vision loss
Dr. Warren, who regularly treats patients with diabetes, believes a big
part of the problem is “many young people with diabetes simply don’t
understand they are at a significantly higher risk for losing their eyesight
due to diabetic retinopathy. With eye diseases,
prevention and treatment is 100 percent the key to keeping your vision. If you have diabetes and don’t see your
eye doctor regularly, you risk permanent vision loss and blindness.”
At a minimum, Dr. Warren urges patients with diabetes to see their eye
doctor annually. She also recommends they pick an “eye month,”
so it’s easier to remember to schedule an eye appointment every year.
“Regardless of age, people with diabetes need to be seen once a year,
unless they have diabetic retinopathy, in which case they may need to
be seen more frequently. For patients who have signs of diabetic retinopathy,
we will formulate a treatment plan based on the severity of the disease
and determine what follow-ups are needed moving forward,” says Dr. Warren.
Even if your eyes are fine now, things can change quickly
As Dr. Warren explains, “Just because you don’t have diabetic
retinopathy this year, that doesn’t mean in the course of the next
year you won’t develop the disease. Every year you have diabetes,
your risk for diabetic retinopathy increases. You have to see an eye doctor
to protect your vision.”
People with diabetes also have a significantly higher risk for getting
other eye diseases and conditions. “Fluctuating blood sugars in
known to cause early cataracts. People with diabetes also have an increased
risk factor for glaucoma and vascular eye diseases such as vein or artery occlusions. So diabetics
have many reasons to see their eye doctor regularly,” says Dr. Warren.
Risk of blindness escalates if you don’t manage your blood sugars
According to Dr. Warren, “If you don’t monitor your blood sugars
and make sure your hemoglobin A1C stays in a tight range, then you’re
definitely more at risk for diabetic retinopathy. Uncontrolled diabetes
is a significant
risk factor for getting diabetic retinopathy, no matter your age.”
While both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics face similar risks, Type 1 diabetics
face a lifetime of managing the disease. And whereas a Type 2 diabetes
patient may be able to monitor nutrition and lose weight to help control
the diabetes, a Type 1 diabetic is insulin dependent, not insulin resistant,
and often faces a bigger challenge managing his or her sugars.
“So the likelihood of developing diabetic retinopathy is greater
if you are Type 1, however, Type 2 diabetics can also have significant
eye disease and absolutely go blind if they don’t manage their disease
and eye health. If you’re diabetic and want to see for as long as
you live, you need to get in the habit of seeing your eye doctor,”
Dr. Warren says.
Imagine a world where you can’t see, drive or find work easily
“That’s the risk you take if you don’t keep your blood
sugars controlled or
take diabetic eye disease seriously. If you or a family member suffers from diabetes, schedule an eye health
appointment with an eye doctor who specializes in diabetic eye disease
today,” advises Dr. Warren.
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