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Taking Care of Your Vision

Peter Galvani knows the importance of good eye care when living with diabetes. The Framingham police officer, husband, and father of three was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 25 years old. At the time, he had early signs of retinopathy in his left eye.

Diabetic retinopathy can become a serious eye complication of diabetes and a leading cause of preventative blindness in working-age adults, according to Lloyd Paul Aiello, MD, PhD, Director of the Beetham Eye Institute at Joslin Diabetes Center, a clinical partner of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Diabetic Retinopathy occurs when elevated blood glucose levels damage the blood vessels in the retina, the thin, light-sensitive inner lining in the back of your eye.

To treat diabetic retinopathy, the doctor often uses a laser - a bright powerful beam of light - on the retina. The light scars areas of the retina to stop new blood vessels from forming and to shrink any new vessels that are present. Generally, this treatment helps stabilize, or improve, vision. Most people can expect their vision to be the same as it was before the treatment.

Peter has had several laser surgeries over the past 10 years. He describes it as "quick, about 10 minutes. It's not painful, just a little uncomfortable with all the bright lights. Sometimes I have a headache after and need to take a nap."

"Your eyes can become damaged without your knowing it," Dr. Aiello warns. "The damage can occur in areas that do not initially affect vision, and you generally feel no pain."

Only careful, dilated eye examinations at regular times will detect the damage. If you have had type 1 diabetes for five or more years, you should have your eyes examined by an eye doctor expert in diabetes care at least once a year. If you have type 2 diabetes, your eyes should be examined when your diabetes is diagnosed and at least once a year afterward.

Call your eye doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Black or red floating spots in your vision
  • Blurring, distortion or waviness of straight lines
  • The sensation that a curtain is coming down over your eyes
  • Sudden loss of vision
  • Severe eye pain

Remember, you can have advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy and not know it. Take charge of your eye care health and be sure to have dilated eye exams at least once a year.

"Don't be afraid to go," Peter advises. "You need to find any changes early and fight it head on."

Above content provided by the Joslin Diabetes Center in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted November 2012