When you or a loved one is diagnosed with diabetes, a ton of information is thrown your way on what it means and how to manage it. Part of that management is your eye health. We understand how unsettling it feels — thinking of having problems with your eyes or vision. So many diabetics push off eye exams for this very reason.
But monitoring your eye health really matters when you have diabetes — and you’re not alone in this.
In the United States, over 32 million people have diabetes and 88 million have pre-diabetes. That’s how many people Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) affects — an ocular (eye) complication directly caused by diabetes.
Notice how there isn’t really an option of not getting it. Diabetes, an ongoing disease that affects eye health, will cause some form of diabetic retinopathy for most diabetics. Time and detection play a huge factor in its severity.
While diabetes affects the entire body, we want to share insight on how diabetes changes your eyes, the importance of routine eye exams, and how to optimize your future eye health.
Keep reading to better understand diabetic retinopathy and how Eye on Health can help locals in Phoenix, Arizona. As an experienced and passionate eye doctor specializing in early DR detection, Dr. Balocca loves serving the Phoenix community.
Diabetes is all about those blood sugar numbers. Having too much sugar in your blood damages your retina — the part of your eye that detects light. Think of the retina like wallpaper inside the eye.
Elevated sugar in your blood damages retinal blood vessels in your eyes. Damage to these tiny, tiny blood vessels changes vision capabilities and causes eye health concerns.
Diabetic Retinopathy has two main categories: Non-Proliferative DR(NPDR), and Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (PDR). Don’t worry you won’t be tested on any of this! Doctors grade NPDR and PDR in stages of severity: mild, moderate, and severe.
It’s possible to have diabetes and not have any signs of diabetic retinopathy. This is ideal and optimal for your eye health, but a temporary thing. We’re sad to say, the longer you have diabetes the more likely you are to have some form of diabetic retinopathy.
Studies found that after 5 years of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, 25% of people had DR. The same study found that in type 2 diabetics, 40% had DR within 5 years.
We understand this can feel alarming and even scary. The more you understand the risks to your vision, the better you’re equipped to make great choices for yourself. At Eye on Health, we live up to our name and love education that helps you literally keep an eye on your health. Routine visits can help save your vision.
Keep reading to find out how – but first, let’s take a look into the categories of DR.
Non-Proliferative means you don’t have any new growth (we’ll explain this more in PDR). It’s the early form of DR and can go undetected without eye exams. NPDR weakens your retinal blood vessels and causes them to leak.
The macula, the central portion of your retina, is responsible for fine detail and clarity. When retinal blood vessels leak, they cause swelling in the macula, or diabetic macular edema (DME). DME causes blurry vision, and you may notice floaters (small black dots or strings in your vision).
NPDR is the early form of diabetic retinopathy, and monitoring its progression prevents serious problems from sneaking up on you. It’s the beginning stages of diabetic retinopathy, with mild, moderate, and severe stages that affect each diabetic on an individual level. Yearly eye exams with a trusted ophthalmologist can prevent your NPDR from leading to serious vision issues.
Proliferative means the retina sends signals to grow new abnormal blood vessels in your eyes. The more serious stage of diabetic retinopathy, PDR causes the most harm to your vision. These new blood vessels are often weak and bleed, leading to DME and other serious vision-threatening complications, like vitreous hemorrhages or retinal detachments.
PDR can cause blindness if not treated in a timely manner.
At Eye on Health, our detailed eye exams detect DR, and our optometrist will let you know if you need to see a specialist or not.
Dr. Balocca specializes in examinations of diabetic retinopathy, so you can trust you’re getting quality eye care when you visit our Phoenix office. He loves educating and helping his patients understand the impact diabetes plays in eye health.
The biggest problem with NPDR is you can have it and not even know it! If you don’t have DME and your vision seems fine, you could have this underlying problem lurking in your eyes without warning.
Preventing severe vision deterioration is why making and keeping appointments with us here at Eye on Health is SO important.
An eye exam provides the optometrist with detailed information on your eyes, and we use the latest technology to detect DME. So, even though you might not have symptoms, if you or your loved one has diabetes, it’s best to get an eye exam!
When diabetic retinopathy progresses, you’ll notice more symptoms in your vision.
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy:
An increasing number of floaters
Missing or dark areas in your vision
Poor night vision
Colors are faded
Loss of vision
We know all those sound terrible and honestly, they are. Your vision is one of your most important senses and essential for living life to the fullest in Phoenix, Arizona! That’s why our optometrist wants to monitor your vision — before it gets to the point of seeing a specialist. If you need one, Dr. Balocca will know; if you don’t, even better!
You might be asking yourself, how will the optometrist know if I have proliferative diabetic retinopathy or non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy? Here at Eye on Health, we provide the most important medical advancements to monitor your eye conditions.
The first tool optometrists use is a detailed eye exam to detect diabetic retinopathy. There really is a lot more to an eye exam than just, “number 1 or number 2.” (This is called refraction by the way, and tells the optometrist your exact prescription to see your best.) Before this takes place, your eye exam measures your visual acuity, or how well you can see the eye chart.
Did you know your visual acuity can significantly change — without you even noticing it?
Because we have TWO eyes, sometimes one eye changes and the other eye makes up for it. Your visual acuity lets the doctor know if your vision’s seriously changed from your last appointment.
Your eye exam also includes looking at the outside structure, like your eyelids and cornea. We measure your eye pressure to make sure you’re not at risk for glaucoma — or to diagnose if you already have it. We check your peripheral vision to assess for changes in your optic nerve or brain.
All this valuable information informs Dr. Balocca’s assessment during your eye exam.
According to the American Optometric Association eye exams for all healthy and low-risk adults should be performed:
Age 0-2: One exam
Age 3-5: One exam
Age 6-17: Every year
Age 18-39: Every 2 years
Age 40-64: Every 2 years
Age 65 and older: Every year
Now for diabetics at any age, you're recommended to visit your local optometrist every year to monitor inevitable changes to your eye health!
If you have high-risk factors, such as a family history of eye issues, health complications like diabetes, or only one functioning eye, you’ll likely need more eye exams. Dr. Balocca gives individualized assessments and recommendations at our Phoenix office.
The second most important tool for your diabetic eye exam is having an optical coherence tomography (OCT) test performed. It sounds super scary and complicated, right? It’s not. You basically put your head into a little machine and look at a light. It’s not invasive and there isn’t the terrible puff of air.
An OCT measures the thickness of your retina. Remember when we were talking about diabetic macular edema (DME)? An OCT detects DME very easily and early. Our optometrist shows you what a normal OCT looks like compared to yours — in real-time. Imagine being able to see the inside layers of your own eye! This cutting-edge technology provides essential insight that helps Dr. Balocca create a plan for your optimal eye health.
Let’s review a few important points for taking care of your eyes. If you have diabetes, you should see an optometrist every year for routine diabetic eye exams. The doctor monitors changes to your eyes that you may not even be aware of! If you want to prevent vision-threatening levels of diabetic retinopathy, don’t procrastinate. Set a reminder in your phone and make that annual appointment!
If you notice changes in your vision, you should always feel comfortable calling your optometrist to discuss what’s different. Sudden vision changes often indicate larger issues and it’s best to get professional care. If you can avoid a retina specialist, great – but if it’s time to see one, our optometrist is knowledgeable in monitoring and referring diabetic patients when it’s time.
The last way you can monitor your diabetic retinopathy is by keeping your hemoglobin A1C in a good range. Your A1C tells optometrists and other doctors how well you’re managing blood sugar. According to the American Diabetes Association, the goal for most people with diabetes is an A1C value of 7% or lower.
Always discuss your A1C with your doctor and optometrist; it’s pertinent information for your overall eye health.
Losing your vision to diabetes is a pretty scary thought – but preventative measures really do help! When you put your health first, it pays off. We’ve learned the important role annual eye exams play, so take a step today and reach out to your local optometrist.
Routine eye exams give the doctor valuable information about your eye health — and give you the peace of mind that your eyes are healthy. When, and if, it’s time to see a specialist, Eye on Health will take care of setting you up with a trusted referral.
You don’t just want anyone managing your eyesight; you want an optometrist who truly understands your concerns. An optometrist who goes the extra mile to ensure your vision needs are being met. If you’re in Phoenix Arizona, come meet Dr. Balocca at Eye on Health.