Your eyes are your window to the world, but they are also a doctor's window to your personal health. This is especially true for people who have diabetes and the millions of others who don't know they have the disease.
Because September is the month thousands of Arizonans will participate in "Step Out - Walk to Fight Diabetes," Cigna Medical Group is using this opportunity to educate people about getting their eyes checked regularly. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, people with diabetes are 25 times more likely to lose their vision than those who are not diabetic.
Uncontrolled diabetes is dangerous to your eyes because high blood sugar slowly injures the blood vessels and nerves in your body. The higher your blood sugar is - and the longer it stays high - the worse the damage. That can lead to diabetic retinopathy, which weakens the small blood vessels that nourish the retina. The vessels become fragile and cause tiny, abnormal branches, which leak blood. Over time, this can cause severe damage and loss of sight.
Unfortunately symptoms often don't show up until the harm has been done. Those symptoms may include:
• Blurred or distorted vision
• Floating black spots in your sight
• Double vision
• Partial or total loss of eyesight
There is hope. The solution is to have a dilated eye exam every year. It can be performed by an ophthalmologist or an optometrist. The exam is simple and painless - just a couple of eye drops allows the medical professional to peer inside your eye to look for damaged vessels.
Many times the damage can be minimized and actually reversed by early intervention. Potential treatments include medication and use of lasers to fix the damaged vessels.
Of course, many of you will read this and say "I don't have diabetes," but the American Diabetes Association estimates 5.5 million people actually have undetected diabetes. That's in addition to the 18 million people already diagnosed and the 57 million people classified as having pre-diabetes.
So whether it's for you or a loved one, take action now and schedule an appointment for a dilated eye exam. And the most important point is that you do it every year, regardless of whether or not you're feeling fine.
Jean Merkel, M.S., R.D., C.D.E. and Dr. Tina Porzukowiak, O.D., F.A.A.O. are both with the Cigna Medical Group. For more information, visit www.cigna.com/cmgaz/ or the American Diabetes Association at www.diabetes.org.