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Diabetes Can Be The Cause of Vision Loss

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects approximately 34.2 million Americans. Diabetes can be the cause of serious health issues that include heart and kidney disease as well as vision loss.

The Health and Wellness Center offers eye exams that can be helpful for the early detection of diabetes.  

Many Are Unaware They Have Diabetes

It’s estimated that 1 out of every 5 Americans who suffer from diabetes do not realize they have the disease. Diabetes, now the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., is the number one cause of kidney failure as well as the number one cause of lower-limb amputations and adult blindness.

Routine eye exams can help identify diabetes symptoms while the disease is still in its early stages. Once there is an onset of diabetes, one of the first parts of the body that is affected are the eyes.

Dr. Austin Byrum, an optometrist with the Health and Wellness Center in Stigler, Oklahoma, says that diabetes can be detected early through a dilated eye exam. Early detection can give patients a head start in taking steps to keep the disease under control and limit the damage diabetes can cause to their eyes and to their overall health.

Detect Diabetes Early with an Eye Exam

During a dilated eye exam, optometrists can detect signs of diabetes that include a condition called diabetic retinopathy.  Diabetic retinopathy affects the blood vessels in the eye’s retina (the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye). The blood vessels become weakened due to high blood sugar levels. This leads to bleeding within the eye.

If left untreated, the bleeding within the eye can lead to a condition called diabetic macular edema. Macular edema involves swelling in the central area of the eye which can lead to vision loss.

“If we can catch it early enough the treatment is super simple at that point,” Dr. Byrum says. “It’s usually just getting the blood sugar under control and all the bleeding will go away.”

Dr. Byrum notes there are other eye diseases that can develop as a result of diabetes such as glaucoma – a condition where a pressure spike in the eye leads to damage to the optic nerve which transfers signals from the eye to the brain – as well as the early onset of cataracts.

Other health factors can lead to eye damage including high blood pressure, smoking, and high cholesterol.

Dr. Byrum says patients who are aware they have diabetes should schedule and eye exam if they begin to notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Fluctuating vision – especially if your vision becomes blurry when your blood sugar is high.
  • Irregular flashes or “floaters” within the eyes.
  • Dark spots that pop up within your vision that remain there for several days.
  • A curtain of black that filters down over your vision.

Dilated eye exams can be uncomfortable for the patient, but the exam can reveal valuable clues that give healthcare providers a better view of overall patient health.

“That’s not the most fun thing to do in the world, to have your eyes dilated,” Dr. Byrum says. “But it’s very important for the doctor to be able to put those drops in to make your pupil wide enough to see inside of the eye and to possibly catch some of these eye conditions before they start to harm your vision.”

According to Dr. Byrum, there have been several instances when a routine annual dilated eye exam has allowed him to detect signs of diabetes in patients who were unaware they had the disease. When this occurs, the patients are referred to a physician within the Health and Wellness Center who will create a treatment plan to help the patient address diabetes.

Diabetes and vision loss hit close to home for Dr. Byrum

Having family members who deal with diabetes and vision loss gives Dr. Byrum a strong sense of purpose in how he provides patient care. Through his work as an optometrist, Dr. Byrum hopes to make a difference in the lives of his patients.

 “My family has a strong history of diabetes and high blood pressure, things like that. I’m trying to save them (his patients) from going through the same process. Losing vision is just a terrible thing.”


You can schedule a simple eye exam that can detect glaucoma by calling the Health and Wellness Center at 1-800-640-9741.

For eye exams, the Health and Wellness Center accepts vision insurance, and in some instances medical insurance, and they also offer a sliding fee scale that can be applied to eye exams and to glasses.

Written by Lance Montgomemery

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