Diabetes can take a serious toll on the body, but did you know uncontrolled diabetes can lead to irreversible vision loss and even blindness? In fact, according to a recent report by the National Eye Institute (NEI), diabetic retinopathy – the most common form of diabetic eye disease – is the leading cause of blindness in adults ages 20-74.The NEI also projects the prevalence of the disease will grow from 7.7 million people in the U.S. today to 11 million people by 2030.While these statistics may sound staggering, there is some good news. According to Key Whitman Eye Center’s Dallas eye doctor Amanda Hoelscher, O.D., “Early detection and treatment of diabetes can save your eyesight. In fact, simple lifestyle changes – incorporating more foods with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D into your diet, as well as moving more – really make a difference when it comes to keeping eyes healthy and diabetes in check.” Dr. Hoelscher explains why diabetics don’t need a gym membership to get a healthy dose of daily exercise.
Dr. Hoelscher explains, “Diabetes can lead to leaky blood vessels in the retina, the light sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. When these blood vessels weaken and hemorrhage or abnormal blood vessels grow that leads to a condition known as diabetic retinopathy.” Diabetics also face an increased risk of glaucoma and cataracts.
Learn about recent research on hassle-free treatments for glaucoma in this past post.
“Left untreated, diabetic retinopathy will lead to irreversible vision loss. Managing the symptoms of diabetes is the best way to prevent diabetic eye disease from advancing in the first place,” says Dr. Hoelscher.
Unfortunately, most people don’t experience any symptoms of diabetic retinopathy until damage to the retina and irreversible vision loss has occurred. That’s why eye doctors, like Dr. Hoelscher, play a key role in diagnosing and monitoring the progression of diabetes and diabetic retinopathy.
According to a 2014 American Optometric Association survey, eye doctors found diabetes related manifestations in nearly 250,000 patients who were unaware they even had diabetes.
As Dr. Hoelscher explains, “Eye doctors are often the first to diagnose diabetes, because a dilated eye exam is the only way to visualize what’s going on with the blood vessels in the body. We also use high-technology cameras to look for tiny hemorrhages in the back of the eye.”
Once a patient is diagnosed with diabetes, eye doctors work hand-in-hand with the patient’s primary care physician (PCP) to help monitor the progression of diabetes and diabetic retinopathy. If the disease worsens to the state of proliferative diabetic retinopathy, an eye doctor can perform laser treatments to remove abnormal blood vessels.
“If you’re diabetic, it’s important to have a yearly, dilated eye exam. As an eye doctor, I communicate my findings with the patient’s PCP, endocrinologist or whoever is helping manage the patient’s diabetes. With a new diagnosis, I coordinate that finding directly with the PCP. And if the patient doesn’t have a PCP, I’m going to help him or her find one,” Dr. Hoelscher says.
Patient Story: Read how a failed DMV test taught one man to take diabetes seriously.
While every individual with diabetes is unique, recent research suggests that simple dietary changes and increased physical activity play a key role in managing diabetes and deterring diabetic retinopathy.
According to a scholarly review published in 2016 by the medical journal The BMJ, researchers found that while higher levels of physical activity were linked to a lower risk of diabetes, major improvements occurred even at lower levels of activity.
In her Dallas optometry practice, Dr. Hoelscher finds many patients have misconceptions regarding what qualifies as exercise. As she explains, “There are plenty of easy ways get more exercise. When you’re doing housework, just vacuum vigorously, or take a walk in the malls, explore the neighborhood with your dog, park a little further than you normally do.
“We’re not talking about a commitment to an hour and a half at the gym everyday. We’re talking about becoming more active, taking more steps and getting your heart rate up. Small changes go a long way when we’re talking about diabetes and exercise.”
Dietary modifications can make a big difference, too, as Dr. Hoelscher discusses in the following video.
Dr. Hoelscher explains how minor nutritional changes help support eye health for patients with diabetes.
A recent study published in JAMA Ophthalmology revealed the risk of diabetic retinopathy can be greatly reduced in patients with type-2 diabetes by consuming two servings per week of oily fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Find out how your favorite fish stacks up in this helpful post on
omega-3 rich fish from Reader’s Digest. Mackerel, lake trout, herring, blue fin tuna, salmon and shrimp have a lot of omega-3.
According to a recent meta-analysis and systematic review presented at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists 2016 Annual Meeting, vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of diabetic retinopathy. Fortunately, vitamin D is readily available through sun exposure, supplements and healthy foods such as wild-caught and canned fish, dairy products (milk, eggs, yogurt, cheese, etc.) and some breakfast cereals and oatmeal. Prevention magazine shares 16 surprising ways to get vitamin D here.
Before making any changes to your diet or exercise program, consult your PCP or the endocrinologist who is helping you manage and treat your diabetes.
Dr. Hoelscher would like to offer one last piece of advice: “Many people tell themselves they can’t afford an annual eye exam, but my philosophy is you can’t afford to go blind. Can you? Diabetic eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts, are all treatable. Early detection of diabetes leads to intervention and treatment, which can lead to saving your eyesight.”
Dr. Hoelscher regularly helps patients with diabetes monitor and manage their eye health. To schedule a dilated eye exam with Dr. Hoelscher at her North Dallas office, please call (214) 220-3937, or feel free to set up an appointment online.