Facing the Fear of Diabetic Retinopathy

Fear is a powerful motivator, but it can also be the one thing standing in the way of a patient seeking care. For those with diabetes, however, nothing should stand in the way of an annual dilated eye exam.

In a recent nationwide poll, researchers found that going blind is the number one fear of many Americans and that good vision was necessary for overall health. Respondents also said that loss of vision would have the biggest effect on independence and quality of life.1

John A. Waters, M.D., a board-certified ophthalmologist in Flint, said he has spent his career creating a welcoming office where patients can feel more relaxed and take control of their eye health. “I partner with my patients to find the best way to help manage their diabetic eye care,” he said. “I give them information in a way they can understand, so they can make informed decisions and take control of their diabetes. I also partner with the patient’s primary care physician to achieve a well-rounded treatment plan.”

Diabetic Retinopathy is Dr. Waters’ main concern for people with diabetes. It is a disease where high blood sugar causes blood vessels in the retina (the back of the eye) to swell, leak, grow abnormally or become blocked. This can lead to vision loss or even blindness. In fact, according to preventblindness.org, diabetic retinopathy affects 8 million Americans and is the leading cause of blindness among adults.

“We know that people who’ve had diabetes for many years and have uncontrolled blood sugar are more susceptible to diabetic retinopathy,” Dr. Waters said. “Unfortunately, patients don’t always have symptoms, and that’s why having an annual dilated eye exam is so important. We want to catch the disease as early as possible, so we can preserve good vision.”

During the eye exam, Dr. Waters also takes high-resolution photos of the retina to monitor any changes over time. Much of the time diabetic retinopathy can just be monitored. However, if treatment is needed, a laser procedure done in the office can help seal the leaking blood vessels in the retina. Dr. Waters makes sure his patients stay comfortable during any laser treatment.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Sudden loss of vision
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Seeing dark spots (floaters)
  • Poor vision at night

“The good news is that most of my patients who’ve lived with diabetes for decades still have good vision,” Dr. Waters said. “This is because they work with me and their team of doctors to keep their blood sugar under control and adapt their lifestyle.”

Lifestyle changes patients can make to avoid problems from diabetes include exercising 4-5 times a week, eating a healthy diet and working with a nutritionist, avoiding tobacco, and controlling blood sugar and blood pressure.

Although diabetes is an ever-growing fact of life in the United States, Dr. Waters says it doesn’t have to rob people of their vision. “As soon as you’re diagnosed with diabetes, it’s time to get an eye exam,” he said. “This is a disease that people can feel empowered to fight, and I am with them every step of the way.”

1 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaophthalmology/fullarticle/2540516