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November is Diabetes Awareness Month

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Diabetes is a growing health crisis in North America as an estimated 29 million Americans and 3.4 million Canadians are currently living with the disease. Chances are it affects you or someone you know. November has been dedicated as a time to spread awareness about the disease, its risk factors and the effects it has on your body, your daily life and the lives of your loved ones.

Diabetes and Your Eyes

Diabetes is a systemic disease that causes fluctuations in glucose (blood sugar) levels which can affect blood vessels throughout the body including those in your eyes and visual system. People with diabetes are at higher risk for blindness than the general population, however with regular eye exams and proper care, most of the complications are minor and treatable.

Minor changes in glucose levels could result in complications such as blurred or double vision, floaters or even visual field loss. These conditions are usually quite treatable. Diabetics are also at greater risk for developing eye diseases such as glaucoma (40% increase risk) and cataracts (60% increased risk). With early detection, both of these conditions can be treated and the majority of vision restored.

Diabetic eye disease often has NO noticeable symptoms or pain, so comprehensive eye exams that include dilating the pupils are essential to detect signs of diabetes. Online vision assessments will not detect diabetic eye disease.

The condition that is the most concerning risk of diabetes is called diabetic retinopathy which can lead to blindness if not diagnosed and treated.

What You Need to Know About Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the tiny blood vessels or capillaries in the back of the eye develop weakened vessel walls. If not treated, the vessels leak fluid and become blocked. This can progress to hemorrhages in the retina, and over time the eye does not receive enough oxygen and nutrients. As a result, new fine blood vessels start to grow. These proliferating vessels leak and can cause further bleeding, scarring and potentially lead to blindness. A special zone in the central retina called the macula is especially susceptible to diabetes. Diabetic macular edema (when fluid seeps into the macula) can cause permanent vision loss if not promptly detected.

There are treatments for stopping the progression of the disease such as laser therapy or intraocular injections, although once damage to vision has occurred, it is often permanent. This is why the condition must be diagnosed and treated early on.

All diabetics should have a regular comprehensive eye exam to catch any early signs of diabetic retinopathy or other vision threatening conditions. Because risk factors vary, speak to your eye doctor about how often you should have an exam. Risk factors for diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Length of time living with diabetes
  • Uncontrolled blood sugar levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Pregnancy
  • Genetics

Although blindness from diabetes is preventable it is still a leading cause of blindness among working-age adults. If you or someone you know has the disease, make sure that proper eye care is a priority.

PROTECTING OUR COMMUNITY

We have been working very hard to prepare to re-open for normal "routine" preventive eye care, taking every precaution to ensure the safety of everyone involved. We are pleased to announce as of Monday May 18th we'll be seeing patients for all types of eye care, including routine annual eye exams.

But, things will be very different than they were prior to the pandemic.

1. Our front door will be locked at all times. We will be allowing only 1 person at a time in the office and by appointment only, so please enter alone, or with no more than l other person accompanying you. Others may wait in the car.

2. Masks will be required for both patients and us while in our office.

3. Upon entering, we will be checking your temperature and screen you for COVID symptoms or possible exposure. If your temperature is 100 F or higher, or you have symptoms or may have recently been exposed to COVID, we will reschedule you.

4. We will need you to respect the 6 feet personal distancing while outside the exam room

5. We will have you wash your hands for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer when you enter. We will be using hand washing and hand sanitizer constantly and will be disinfecting everything you and we touch. Please don't touch anything that isn't absolutely necessary.

6. For frame selection or picking out glasses, please let us help you, and don't just browse and try on frames by yourself. We have to disinfect the frames every time they are touched or worn, and we need to know which frames need to be disinfected.

We are doing all these things to protect you and all of our other patients as best we can. We will need and depend on your cooperation on this during this very difficult time. Doing so will protect your fellow patients-many of whom are at extremely high risk if they contract COVID - and to protect us. All healthcare providers are putting themselves in harm's way every day during this pandemic - the more we all cooperate and take appropriate precautions, the better off we all will be.

We are all in this together. Thank you for your patience, understanding, and cooperation.

Please stay safe.

Dr. Jim Hutchins and staff