Doctors encourage people at risk for diabetes get full eye exam

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among adults in the U.S., and the risk is only increasing.

Optometrists are encouraging people who are at risk for diabetes to get a comprehensive eye exam, and say it's critical for early detection and prevention of diabetic eye disease. (Source: Kelsey Dickeson, KSNB)

There are more than 30 million Americans living with diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 25 percent of them have diabetic eye disease. That number is projected to increase by 2050.

For Diabetes Awareness Month, local optometrists are encouraging people with diabetes, or who are at risk of diabetes, to get a comprehensive eye exam. This includes getting your eyes dilated.

"If we don't dilate the pupil, it's almost like looking into a room through a key hole," said Dr. Lynda Conner, an optometrist at Family Eyecare Center in Grand Island. "You're only going to see dead set ahead. So you're going to miss out on 90 percent of the retina. So it is important that we look at the entire retina, and that really can only be done through a dilated eye exam."

Even people with 20/20 vision can suffer from diabetic eye disease. According to the president of the Nebraska Optometric Association, eye exams are responsible for detecting diabetes in nearly a quarter million people.

Diabetic eye disease will cause reduced vision or blindness. There won't be any visible symptoms to start, and you won't see any until the disease is already in advanced stages. Conner said getting a comprehensive eye exam is critical to early detection and prevention of the disease.

"The blood vessels that feed the eye become very weak, so this means the blood vessel wall becomes leaky, and it excretes blood and fluid into the tissues of the eye that control vision. So when this happens it can cause a cascade of events that can cause loss of eyesight," Conner said.

Diabetes may also cause cataracts, glaucoma and the inability to focus the eye.

Conner stressed vision screenings or online apps will only detect things like nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism. They can't pick up diabetes.