Diabetic Retinopathy

Why is controlling your blood sugar so important?  Diabetes left untreated can lead to adverse skin conditions, nerve damage in the extremities and organs, kidney disease, heart disease, depression, and eye problems leading to vision loss.

The longer a person has diabetes (especially uncontrolled), the more likely it is that small blood vessels throughout the body are being damaged. The eyes are also prone to this damage. The body will try to compensate by growing new blood vessels, but these blood vessels are abnormal and weak. Diabetic retinopathy develops when the blood vessels in the eye become damaged and leak blood and other fluids into the retinal tissue. This causes the retinal tissue to swell and can lead to impaired vision.  Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include: seeing spots or floaters, blurry vision, having a dark spot in the center of your vision, inability to see colors, or having difficulty seeing at night.  Keep in mind that the early stages of diabetic retinopathy may not have any visible symptoms, but controlling your blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and quitting smoking can all slow the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye problem that is more likely to develop the longer you have diabetes.  In fact, the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy is almost 80% when someone has poorly managed diabetes for at least 15 years.  If untreated, diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness.  Other complications also include retinal detachment, macular edema, cataracts and glaucoma.  Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of adult blindness in the US. It is not curable, but is treatable via medications, surgery, and lifestyle control of diabetes.

A comprehensive eye exam is the only way to ultimately determine if diabetes will cause blindness.  The American Optometric Association and Mayo Clinic among others recommend getting comprehensive dilated eye exams every year.  In addition, diabetic retinopathy telescreening (DRT) is also recommended to notice damage and/or changes in the eye, and to get baseline images of the retina.  DRT is a process in which a specially certified photographer takes several different images of the retina per eye.  These images are uploaded to a secure website that will be reviewed by a licensed ophthalmologist.  Once reviewed, usually within 24-48 hours, the report is sent back to the clinic and the patients are informed of their results.  DRT is yet another free service being offered by TCHNetwork.  Please contact TCHNetwork to inquire about our next scheduled DRT clinic in your area.

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Ruth Homan, Community Health Worker Telluride

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