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Annual exams help keep an eye out for diabetes-related vision problems

When you have diabetes, seeing an eye doctor at least once a year for a comprehensive dilated eye exam is an essential task for good health. Diabetes raises your risk for several eye diseases that can steal your sight. Most of them start stealthily with few, if any, symptoms.

That’s why for Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, Aspirus health experts are encouraging people of all ages to see their eye doctor yearly to help prevent and detect vision-related problems, or worse, vision loss.

“Eye exams are critical as they can reveal hidden signs of disease early on, enabling timely and effective treatment,” said Aspirus Ironwood Ophthalmologist Dustin Wasylik, MD. “We know how precious our eyesight is so we highly recommend that people take control of their health before problems develop because once they do, it could be too late.”

According to the American Diabetes Association, the four most common eye diseases associated with diabetes are:

Diabetic retinopathy. The retina is the inner lining at the back of each eye. High blood sugar can damage the tiny blood vessels around the retina, causing the blood vessels to form pouches that affect vision. Fluid can leak from the blood vessels and trigger abnormal new blood vessels in the retina. This latter stage of the disease can lead to serious vision problems.

Diabetic macular edema. The macula is part of the retina. Diabetes can cause swelling in the macula, which can progress to partial or complete vision loss.

Glaucoma. This group of diseases happen when fluid in the eye can't drain properly. As the fluid builds, it can damage the optic nerve, a group of nerves that connect the eye to the brain.

• Cataracts. A cataract is a clouding of the lenses in the eye, which diminishes vision. People without diabetes often get cataracts, which become more common with age. But if you have diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing cataracts at an earlier age.

Diabetic retinopathy hits home for Dr. Wasylik, as his uncle lost his vision and underwent surgery due to this disease.

“Diabetic retinopathy took away the things he loved to do, like fishing and hunting,” Dr. Wasylik said. “If he had regular exams, and took better control of his diabetes, his vision problems may have been avoided.”

Want to learn more about diabetes and ways you can protect your eyes? Tune in to this Aspirus podcast: Do You have Diabetes? Take Good Care of Your Eyes.