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Diabetic Retinopathy: Why Annual Eye Exams Can Save Your Sight


If you don’t manage it carefully, diabetes can lead to several complications, including damage to the eyes. The most common form is also is one of the leading causes of blindness among adults in the U-S.

In our consumer health series, Vital Signs, Dr. Noel Santini, chief of Adult Medicine for Parkland Hospital’s Community Medicine Division, explains why regular screenings are key to dealing with diabetic retinopathy.

From Dr. Santini’s interview:

What is diabetic retinopathy? “Damage of the small blood vessels in the retina, which is in the back of the eyes. When the blood vessels are damaged they can bleed and they can cause vision loss and blindness. Those who have uncontrolled diabetes are at a higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Also, it’s been associated with uncontrolled high blood pressure and high cholesterol.”

You can have the disease without knowing it:  “Symptoms include blurred vision. And what they call floaters, which are little spots in the visual field. But floaters can occur with other conditions as well. And sometimes floaters are a benign condition, so people don’t really pay much attention to it. That’s why we should not be waiting for the symptoms. Some will experience mild vision problems and they’ll say ‘Oh, I’m just getting old.’ That’s why it’s important to do the screening to make sure we’re catching things in the early stages.

Is help possible in late stages of the disease? “Studies have shown from 50 to 95 percent of people who receive treatment, even if they’re in a very high stage of diabetic retinopathy, they can reduce significantly the risk of ruining their sight. But the earlier you recognize the chances of diabetic retinopathy, the chances are you’re going to maintain your vision and slow the progression of your retinopathy.”

How to prevent diabetic retinopathy? “Manage your diabetes. Keep your blood sugar under control. Screen for retinopathy, which is recommended every year for all diabetic patients.”

For more information:

Facts About Diabetic Eye Disease

American Diabetes Assocation: Eye Complications

Mayo Clinic: Definition, Symptoms, Treatment

What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy?

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.