According to 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) confirmed 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 diabetics are 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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