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Eye Examinations for Veterans with Diabetes

An annual eye examination (including eye dilation) by an ophthalmologist or an optometrist should be part of a veteran's wellness plan whether or not he/she may have diabetes or other eye conditions.

Eye examinations can detect diabetic retinopathy before it damages vision. This is important because symptoms may not be noticed until the disease becomes severe or a complication develops.

Diabetes is the leading cause of new vision loss in adults (age 20-74) in the United States. This is very important for the 20% of Veterans Health Administration patients who have diabetes as well as for all veterans who are interested in achieving and maintaining good health and wellness practices.

Veterans with diabetes can develop a condition in their eyes called "diabetic retinopathy." Diabetes, a condition that causes high levels of sugar in the blood can damage the small blood vessels in the retina - the part of the eye that captures images and sends information to the brain. High blood pressure can also contribute to this.

Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive condition. During the early stage, the tiny blood vessels in the eye weaken. The blood vessels develop small bulges that may burst and leak into the gel-like fluid inside the eye. As the condition progresses, new fragile blood vessels grow in the surface of the retina. These abnormal blood vessels may break, bleed into the middle of the eye, and blur vision. This bleeding can also cause scar tissue to form which may pull on the retina. This action may cause the retina to detach from the wall of the eye.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy and its complications may include:

  • Blurred of distorted vision or difficulty reading
  • Floating particles or flashes of light in your field of vision
  • Partial of total across of vision or a shadow or veil across your field of vision
  • Pain in the eye

    Here are steps to take to reduce the chance of vision loss:

    • Control your blood sugar levels
    • Control your blood pressure
    • Have annual eye examinations by an eye specialist (ophthalmologist or optometrist)
    • See your healthcare provider if you have changes in your vision.
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