Diabetes -" What a Routine Eye Exam Can Tell You
It was supposed to have been a routine eye exam. But when the 48-year-old patient's eyes were dilated and examined with a powerful instrument called a biomicroscope, the results were not good.
The patient's eyes were bleeding internally as blood and other fluids leaked from tiny vessels on the retina of each eye, causing damage to light-sensitive tissues essential to vision.
As soon as I noticed the leaking fluids and the hemorrhaging, I suspected that they might be symptoms of diabetes. In my 12 years of experience as an optometrist, that kind of bleeding usually signals that a buildup of sugar in the patient's bloodstream has begun to break down the capillaries that feed the retina. The result is often what we call diabetic retinopathy a condition in which continuing damage to retinal tissue from diabetes can lead to impaired vision or even blindness, if left untreated.
Until she underwent that eye exam last February, the startled patient had never imagined that she might be diabetic.
But now there was no time to waste. After completing the exam, the patient was told how the examination had revealed the yellowish fluids and dots of leaked blood on her retina. The patient was told to have her blood sugar level checked right away by her family doctor and tell the doctor to check for diabetes with a fasting blood sugar test, because the optometrist had noticed some retinal bleeding.
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. As many as 24,000 people lose their sight each year because of diabetes, according to recent health studies.
The very next day, the patient visited her family medical doctor and was diagnosed with diabetes. Her sugar level was more than four times higher than the normal range. The doctor quickly prescribed insulin therapy and a comprehensive new diet and exercise program to control her blood-sugar level.
A few months later, I reexamined her eyes, with some very pleasing results. The retinal bleeding had stopped, and her eyesight had begun to improve. I think it's very likely that her vision was spared, because she was able to catch her uncontrolled diabetes in the early stages, before major damage to her retina.
As a doctor, it was a very encouraging outcome. I'm glad I was able to help this patient protect her eyesight. That retinal exam really made a difference and it's a good example of why I tell patients that a yearly eye exam can protect their vision and their health.