Sunday, November 11, 2001
Steamboat Springs Although diabetes is one of the leading causes of eye disease in the United States, vision impairment is largely preventable.
People with diabetes are at increased risk for retinopathy, macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts. High blood sugar levels over time can damage the blood vessels in the retina, at the back of the eye. This damage is called "retinopathy." The development and progression of retinopathy is directly related to diabetes management.
Results of two major research studies the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial and the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study demonstrated that keeping blood sugar levels as close to "normal" as possible (the normal range is 70 to 110 mg/dL) can delay the onset or slow the progression of eye disease in people with diabetes.
Diabetes management includes following a healthy meal plan, exercising regularly, taking medications if prescribed, checking blood sugar levels regularly and managing stress. In addition to managing their disease on a daily basis, people with diabetes need to get their eyes checked routinely to screen for possible problems.
A "dilated eye exam" by a qualified health-care provider involves eye drops that dilate the pupils and an examination of the backs of the eyes (retinas). People with diabetes require dilated eye exams beginning five years after diagnosis if they were younger than 30 years old at diagnosis and immediately if they are older than 30 years at diagnosis. Everyone with diabetes needs to have their eyes checked at least yearly thereafter.
Because people who are diagnosed with Type II diabetes may have had the disease for several years without knowing it, changes in the eyes could have already begun. It is important to catch any changes early so they can be followed and/or treated.
Unfortunately, symptoms of eye disease do not usually show up until very late in the process, which is why it is so important for people with diabetes to have their eyes checked routinely. Rapid changes in blood sugar levels can cause fluctuations in vision even if retinopathy is not present.
These changes should resolve when the blood sugar level is back under control.
People with diabetes should have their eyes checked right away if they have visual changes that affect only one eye; last more than a few days; or are not associated with a change in blood sugar.
The Yampa Valley community is fortunate to have a diabetes education program, which offers individual diabetes education counseling, periodic group classes and community events. People with diabetes and others who are interested in learning more about the disease are welcome to call 871-2555 for an appointment.
Jane K. Dickinson, RN, Ph.D, CDE, is coordinator of the Yampa Valley Medical Center Diabetes Education Program.