I had the absolute pleasure be able to sit down and talk to Dr. Kristen Randall. Dr. Randall is an optometrist who specializes in primary eye care and contact lenses. She is warm and very informative.
I know that when Silent Sam was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes that one of the things that we were told was that he needed to get to the eye doctor and get his eyes checked. Fortunately, his eyes were fine and he has been diligent in getting them checked regularly.
Why check his eyes? Dr. Randall explained to me that people with diabetes have an increased risk of eye disease. Having good blood sugar control is an important way to prevent problems but in addition, controlling your blood pressure will help. Your genes play into your eye health also. Unfortunately, the length of time that you have had diabetes will also make a difference in your eye health.
If you are like me, you may not remember what we were taught in high school biology about the eye. The following is a YouTube video about the anatomy of the eye.
The first eye disease that comes to mind with diabetes is Diabetic Retinopathy. This is actually a group of eye problems that can be a complication from diabetes. Diabetic Retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. This disease is caused by changes to the blood vessels of the retina. This disease can take various forms. In some people, the blood vessels may swell and leak fluid. For others, it can be that abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina.
Here is the true villain in the mix. You can have diabetic retinopathy and not know it until you have lost part of your vision.
If you cannot tell that you have it, how can you stop it? It is very important - really really important that you have a comprehensive eye exam at least annually. The eye exam is not different than what you are used to already. There will be a test to see how well you can see distance and close up. The doctor will dilate your eyes so that an exam of your retina and optic nerve can be done. Last but not least, the doctor will check the pressure inside your eye.
Glaucoma is another disease associated with diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes are 40 percent more likely to suffer from glaucoma. The risks for glaucoma increase with age and length of time that one has diabetes. When you have glaucoma, the pressure on the inside of the eye has been raised because drainage of the fluid in the eye slows down. With the buildup of the fluid, the pressure builds and squeezes the blood vessels that carry blood to the retina and optic nerve. The retina and optic nerve are then damaged and vision is lost. The doctor will test for Glaucoma during your annual eye exam. If there is a problem, there are several treatments available.
The final in the big three diseases that affect diabetics more frequently is cataracts. While many people get cataracts, if you are diabetic your chance is 60 percent higher than the normal population. People with diabetes will normally get cataracts at a younger age and the disease will progress faster. When you have cataracts, your normally clear lens becomes cloudy and that affects the amount of light that can penetrate it. We probably all know people who have had cataract surgery. The problem is that when you have diabetes, the surgery to correct cataracts can affect the other possible diabetes related eye problems. It may worsen diabetic retinopathy or start you on the path to glaucoma.
I can't pretend that I was very upbeat after our conversation. These eye diseases are serious and they look in some ways to be inevitable. Dr. Randall assured me that if you are faithful in having your eyes checked that most of the diseases can be helped. But she did stress how important the eye exams were in maintaining one's vision. It is also very important that you as the patient pay attention and if you feel there are any changes that you get to the doctor right away. It is much more important to err on the side of too much checking rather than not enough.
I asked Dr. Randall about the seemingly new eye vitamins that are available. I wondered if they would help a diabetic's eye health. She told me it is very important the patient talk to their doctor about using vitamins specifically for the eye. It is possible that they may not get along with the prescription medicines that the patient may already be taking. So, as they always say, check with your doctor before you try them.
I am so thankful that Dr. Randall could take the time to talk with me about all these issues. If you are in the Chicagoland area, Dr. Randall works with Linton Opticians in Evanston, IL.
Thanks for reading!