If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you may be wondering: Why does my primary care doctor require me to get an annual eye exam? The reason is that diabetes can lead to a condition called "diabetic retinopathy," which can cause blindness if left untreated.
In fact, diabetic retinopathy is responsible for 12% of new cases of blindness annually. It's also the number one cause of new vision impairment in Americans aged 20-74. Fortunately, treating diabetes properly can lower the risk of getting diabetic retinopathy by up to 76%.
So, What Exactly is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Similar to other organs in the body, the eye has a vast network of blood vessels, particularly in the visually sensitive area of the eye called the retina. When someone has uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes and their glucose (sugar) levels are high, the glucose damages the walls of our blood vessels and creates small holes. Then, the vessels start to leak blood; this is diabetic retinopathy.
Thankfully, We Can See the Signs in Your Eyes!
This vessel damage can happen in all organs of the body, but the eye is the only organ that can be seen easily from the outside through a dilated eye exam, which we can perform at Amoskeag Health. If there are signs of diabetic retinopathy in the eye, the chances are high that blood vessels in other vital organs are also leaking. An eye doctor will relay this information to your primary care doctor so they can work with you to better control your diabetes and prevent further damage to your body. In this way, the eyes are truly a window into the health of the body!
Similar to other sight-threatening diseases, diabetic retinopathy often has no symptoms to the patient in early stages. The only way to properly diagnose diabetic retinopathy is through a dilated examination of the eye. Therefore, it is very important for those with diabetes, and those without, to have an annual dilated eye exam.