Monday Medical: Diabetes eye screenings critical |

Monday Medical: Diabetes eye screenings critical

Tamera Manzanares/For the Steamboat Today

Many of us take our vision for granted and may delay eye exams that help ensure our eyes stay healthy. This can have consequences, particularly for people with diabetes, which can damage a person’s eyes severely often without a person even knowing it.

Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among adults in the U.S., but as with many serious complications of the disease, that doesn’t have to be the case.

Dr. Kevin Borgerding, a Steamboat Springs internal medicine physician, helps patients keep tabs on their diabetes. He encourages proactive management that includes good blood sugar control; regular eye exams and other screenings; and lifestyle choices that will enable them to maintain active lives.

“This day and age, no one should go blind or lose a foot because of diabetes,” he said.

The health care team includes a physician, specialists and diabetes educators or counselors. They provide patients with education and tools to help address or prevent complications. However, this assistance is only as effective as a patient’s commitment to maintaining or improving his or her health.

“So much of it is up to them,” Borgerding said.

Diabetes is characterized by high blood glucose levels resulting from problems in the body’s production and/or use of insulin, the hormone that converts sugar, starches and other food into energy.

Diabetes weakens blood vessels, causing changes that affect blood supply to the eyes and other organs. This makes people more susceptible to eye problems such as cataracts and glaucoma. Diabetes is especially harmful to the retina, which is responsible for converting light passing through the eye’s lens into images.

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common and serious diabetes-related eye problem. It happens when fragile blood vessels leak fluid, which builds up, causing swelling and other problems that can lead to vision loss.

Dr. Mark Helm, an ophthalmologist in Steamboat Springs, said blurry vision and other symptoms often don’t occur until late stages of the condition, when it is harder to treat.

“A person won’t have vision changes until the condition really gets a foothold,” he said.

If it’s caught early, doctors can treat diabetic retinopathy with a laser procedure called photocoagulation or medicines that are injected into the eyes. These treatments can halt and may even reverse retina damage.

“That’s why regular screenings are so important,” Helm said. “We can pick up on these early changes and treat the patient before they even know there is a problem.”

People with diabetes should have dilated eye exams with an optometrist or ophthalmologist at least once per year depending on their eye health, he said.

If you have diabetes, you should contact your doctor if you are experiencing vision problems such as black spots, flashes of light or blurred vision. Blurred vision isn’t always a sign of retinopathy. High blood sugar may blur vision temporarily, a situation that can be resolved when blood sugar returns to target ranges.

The longer a person has had diabetes, the more likely he or she is to have retinopathy. It’s not always clear how long a person has had the disease when he or she is diagnosed; he or she needs to have an eye exam to gauge any eye damage.

Studies have shown that people who tightly control their blood sugar significantly reduce their risk of developing the condition.

How a person controls his or her blood sugar and other aspects of diabetes depends on a variety of factors, including the type of diabetes, how long he or she has had it and how it affects his or her bodies. Good nutrition, blood pressure, cholesterol and weight control, regular exercise, tobacco cessation and alcohol avoidance all play important roles in a long-term diabetes management plan.

This article includes information from the American Diabetes Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tamera Manzanares writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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