Eye doctors on diabetic eye disease: ‘Eyes are the windows to our health’

Eye doctors on diabetic eye disease: 'Eyes are the windows to our health'

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Doctors like to say our eyes are the windows to our health. But, did you know a simple eye exam could tell your doctor if you are at risk for diabetes? It’s one of the reasons eye doctor say annual eye exams are so important.

November is Diabetic Eye Disease awareness month - and they point out eye exams are like physical for your eyes. You need one every year just like the one you get for the rest of your body. They say it's not optional and can really give alot insight to any underlying issues with your body.

Especially when it comes to diabetes. The American Diabetes Association says 1.5 million people are diagnosed every year. And diabetics have a high risk of vision impairment and potential blindness. Particularly if you're not getting regular eye exams.

Teresa Cochrane, of Concord, knows firsthand how important they are. “I tell everybody to get an eye exam because my mother had diabetes,” she said. “And we didn't know how concerning it was or how bad it was. But I encouraged her to come in for an eye exam with the ophthalmologist I was working for and found out that her diabetes was pretty severe just by the eye exam alone.”

That may be hard to believe but Dr. Kevin Hart, an optometrist at My Eye Doctor in Concord says he’s seen that more times than he cares to admit. “The eye is such a vascular organ and blood goes everywhere,” he said. “Diabetes. High blood pressure. High cholesterol. Even arthritis.”

All can be diagnosed from an annual eye exam. Dr. Hart says it’s much easier to provide preventative care and pointed out, “routine eye exams are very important just because we can see so many things that can cause retinal detachment later in life. Or many things that can sometimes be fixed a lot easier on the front end.”

Cochrane’s mom was not so fortunate. Not only did her mom have diabetes - she had a pretty severe case of it.

“The severity of what her eyes, the shape her eyes were in due to the diabetes - was a lot of treatment and alot of awareness that she had to change her lifestyle - just by getting that eye exam,” said Cochrane. “It was very scary. It was very shocking and it was like, ‘Ok, we really have to do this’.”

That treatment included laser eye surgery as well as daily medication. But, she’s grateful her mom didn’t have any permanent vision loss.

It's part of the reason she's so passionate about sharing her mom's story. The other reason - her own health as Cochrane has psoriatic arthritis.

“It was just my eye hurting and red and I had no idea it had anything to do with my psoriatic arthritis but it did,” she said. “So the eyes were the first sign of what was going on with me.”

That first sign is why experts call our eyes the windows to our health and why she never skips her annual eye exam. “If you’re gonna have a physical, make sure you do the eye doctor the same day,” said Cochrane. “Because, it’s just as important getting a physical. It’s a physical for your eyes, basically.”

Other eye disease like diabetic retinopathy, one of the most common, can be quiet serious. It’s when blood vessels in your eye start leaking because the carbohydrate molecules flowing through them are not getting absorbed by your muscles and fat tissue.

“Unfortunately diabetes is one condition where you can have very severe retinopathy to the point where you might need surgery and you may not have any symptoms,” said Dr. Hart. “Even patients who have well controlled diabetes - we still recommend they have they’re retina evaluated once every year just because so many things that we see are so much easier to treat on the front end.”

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