Tonawanda News

November 21, 2011

Retinopathy a common eye disease that diabetics must watch out for

By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News

— A recent survey by the American Optometric Association shows that 55 percent of people are not aware there are often no symptoms associated with diabetic eye disease. The same survey revealed 44 percent of Americans don’t realize a person with diabetes should have comprehensive yearly exams.

Dr. Thomas Kaminska, an optometrist in Cheektowaga, says he’d like to see those numbers reduced.

“There are too many people losing their sight unneccesarily who could’ve been helped years ago if they had come in,” he said.

Kaminska explained many people discover they have diabetes after a sudden, drastic change in their eyesight. That can be corrected with medication and keeping blood sugar levels under control, he said. What’s most dangerous are diseases like retinopathy, a disorder that affects diabetes patients and often exhibits no symptoms.

“When optometrists dilate a patient’s eyes during an eye exam, they have a clear view of the retina and can look for indications of diabetic eye disease, such as leaking blood vessels, swelling and deposits within the retina,” Kaminska said. “Optometrists often serve as the first line of detection for diabetes, since the eye is the only place in the body that blood vessels can be seen in their natural condition without having to surgically cut through skin.”

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the blood vessels that supply oxygen to the retina are damaged. The vessels can leak blood and other fluids, causing swelling that could lead to permanent visual impairment or blindness. Kaminska said people could have retinopathy for years before noticing any impairment in their vision, which is why he said a yearly exam is important, even if a patient doesn’t have any symptoms.

“Some people with retinopathy come in here and they have 10 hemorages but they may have 20/20 vision,” Kaminska said.

Luckily the condition is treatable with lasers, medications or injections — Kaminska said he’s never in his 31-year career been so excited as he is now by some of the recent advancements he’s seen in medications to treat the disease.

“Newer medications for retinopathy have recently been shown to be very effective for preserving, and sometimes improving vision. The key is to detect the problem early so that the chances of maintaining good eyesight are maximized,” he said.

The AOA reports that those who don’t keep their blood sugar, blood pressure and blood lipid under control are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy. The longer a person lives with diabetes, though, the more likely they are to develop the disease, despite keeping their blood sugar under control.

“The majority of people diagnosed with diabetes will have some degree of retinopathy within 20 years of diagnosis,” the organization said in a release.

Kaminska says that diabetes patients who do get regular comprehensive eye exams should still pay attention to any warning signs they might be developing retinopathy between their yearly appointments.

“Patients should be on watch for any sudden changes [in vision], especially a shower of dots, threads, webs,” he said. “I tell everybody in the meantime if you see any of that you call right away, but it’s usually such a slow progression.”

For more information on retinopathy and diabetic eye health, visit www.nysoa.org.

Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.