It's also not unusual, he added, for eye doctors to discover that a patient might have diabetes.
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"That's a good reason to have regular eye exams," he said.
For individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes, Thadani recommends a regular annual eye assessment that includes a dilated examination to view the retina to monitor for diabetic retinopathy.
"Early diagnosis and treatment of diabetic eye disease can prevent vision loss," he noted. "For type 2 diabetics, an annual examination is recommended. For type 1 diabetics, an annual dilated examination is recommended five years after the diagnosis of diabetes. Pregnant women with diabetes should see their eye doctor during the first three months of pregnancy."
The ADA says there are two types of diabetic retinopathy. In nonproliferative retinopathy, the most common form, capillaries in the back of the eye balloon and form pouches. It can advance from mild to severe as more blood vessels become blocked.
In some patients, retinopathy progresses after several years to a more serious form called proliferative retinopathy. In this form, the blood vessels are so damaged they close off. In response, new blood vessels start growing in the retina. They are weak and can leak blood, blocking vision, which is a condition called vitreous hemorrhage. The new blood vessels can also cause scar tissue to grow. After the scar tissue shrinks, it can distort the retina or pull it out of place — a condition called retinal detachment.
Huge strides have been made in the treatment of diabetic retinopathy, say both Thadani and the ADA, including scatter photocoagulation and focal photocoagulation.
In photocoagulation, the eye care professional makes tiny burns on the retina with a special laser. These burns seal the blood vessels and stop them from growing and leaking.
In scatter photocoagulation, the doctor makes hundreds of burns in a polka dot pattern on two or more occasions. This reduces the risk of blindness from vitreous hemorrhage or detachment of the retina; but it only works before bleeding or detachment has progressed very far. This treatment also is used for some types of glaucoma.
With focal photocoagulation, the eye doctor aims the laser precisely at leaking blood vessels in the macula. This procedure does not cure blurry vision caused by macular edema. But it does keep it from getting worse.
With November designated as Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, Thadani said it's the perfect time to have an eye exam.
He also made a decision to offer free diabetic eye screenings for the remainder of this year in an effort to raise awareness. The toll-free number is 800-778-7647.
As someone who has been dealing with diabetic vision problems, Crawford strongly encourages individuals to educate themselves about diabetes before the disease becomes too complicated.
"I probably had diabetes as a teenager, but I ignored the symptoms — excessive thirst and fatigue," she said. "I wish I would have done more. But you always wish after the fact.
"Today," she added, "I have a lot of health issues. I have so many things. I'm in a wheelchair and on oxygen all the time. I can't rejuvenate my body. But I have faith in God and a positive attitude.
"If you're diagnosed with diabetes, do everything you can to get it under control. Don't take a moment of your life for granted. And, most importantly," she noted, "follow what your doctor says. And then work at it each day of your life."