Seeing diabetes: How regular eye exams can help with early detection, treatment plans

Image of an eye, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Chombosan, iStock / Getty Images, St. George News

FEATURE — It has often been said that the eyes are the window to the soul but they can also be a window into a person’s overall health and wellness. When it comes to detecting or managing a disease like diabetes the eye contains important clues to help doctors find the best care and treatment plans for the patient.

Inside Southwest Vision’s facility, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Southwest Vision, St. George News

“When we talk about diabetes and the eye, we are really discussing the blood vessels in the eye,” said Dr. Ryan Robison, an optometrist at SouthWest Vision. “If you’re diabetic the concern is what the blood vessels are doing throughout the body. The unique thing about the eye is that we can actually see the blood vessels. When we look inside the eye we can see the arteries and the veins.”

Early detection

If a person is starting to have changes in their blood vessels such as bleeding or hemorrhaging, an optometrist would be able to physically see that during an eye examination, Robison said.

Damage to the blood vessels in the eye as a result of high blood sugar levels is an eye disease known as diabetic retinopathy. Oftentimes when changes in the eye’s blood vessels are seen, it is a sign that the patient is having problems elsewhere, Robison said.

Nationally, statistics on diabetes show that 30 percent of people with the disease don’t know they are diabetic until they have their eyes examined, Robison said, adding that there is very little indication to a patient that diabetic retinopathy exists until it progresses too far.

“Visually you don’t notice any change until the bleeding happens to occur in the macular zone of the retina.”

This image shows an example of a healthy eye without diabetic retinopathy, date and location not specified | Image courtesy of Southwest Vision, St. George News

The macular zone of the retina is the small area at the center of the retina. It is responsible for everything a person sees straight in front of them or at the center of their field of vision.

“But the bleeding usually occurs in the peripheral edges of the retina and occurs in a way that it doesn’t give you any alert,” Robison said, “you don’t feel anything, you don’t have any sensation that something is happening on the inside of the eye and you don’t see any different.”

Because there are little to no symptoms to alert a patient that there is a bleeding blood vessel in their eye, diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness.

Regular eye exams then, play a key role in early disease detection and early prevention. Patients of all ages should have a well-check once a year as a general recommendation, Robison said.

If bleeding or hemorrhaging inside the eye is seen, a patient will be sent to their primary physician for blood work to determine if they have diabetes, Robison said.

Diabetes care

For patients who already know they have diabetes, regular eye exams are useful tools for understanding how their treatment plans are working and for preventing additional vision loss or eye damage.

If a patient knows they are diabetic, Robison said, regular eye exams provide valuable feedback about how a diabetes maintenance plan is working.

“If you are on medication, or have a diet or exercise regimen as part of the treatment plan, but an eye examination detects retinopathy, that is an indication that whatever the current maintenance plan is, is not working and it needs to be adjusted,” Robison said.

At SouthWest Vision, the doctors and staff send progress reports to the managing physician so they know and can see the status is of the inside of the patient’s eye.

This images is an example of an eye with diabetic retinopathy, date and location not specified | Image courtesy of Southwest Vision, St. George News

This gives the physician additional feedback to help them know if they need to make adjustments to the medication or treatment plan.

Once there is bleeding in the eye, the optometrists at SouthWest Vision now watch the eye to determine what sort of eye treatment is necessary for someone with diabetic retinopathy.

As the retinopathy starts to affect the macular zone, laser treatments or injections may be needed.

One of the most effective treatments SouthWest Vision uses is an injectable anti-inflammatory medication, Robison said. The medication has been a major breakthrough for treatment of macular degeneration. It helps undo swelling in the macula and has been more effective than any previous treatment including lasers because it helps to preserve the tissue in the eye, Robison said.

About SouthWest Vision

SouthWest Vision is a premier eye and vision care provider that has been bringing quality eye care to Southern Utah for almost 20 years. SouthWest Vision has won Best of State in both eyecare and optical care several times. They are the most awarded doctors in Southern Utah, Robison said.

The clinic sees both scheduled patients and eye emergencies. The SouthWest Vision team is dedicated to uncompromising medical eye care applying the latest science and technology to every eye assessment. At Southwest Vision they believe that early detection of eye disease is key to preventing devestating loss of vision later in life.

The dedicated team of doctors and staff want the patient to experience world-class optical care and have confidence in their vision. To learn more about SouthWest Vision or to schedule an appointment visit their website.

The facade of Southwest Vision’s location, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Southwest Vision, St. George News

• S P O N S O R E D   C O N T E N T  •


  • Southwest Vision | Address: 965 E. 700 South, St. George | Telephone: 435-673-5577 | Website.


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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • Randys Sister December 18, 2017 at 8:24 am

    All I can say is if Dr. Gooch tells you that you have pre-glaucoma, get a second opinion. If they try to rake you over the coals with un-forseen expensive tests or procedures, get a second opinion. The people there are kind and it the environment is comfortable there, but they are in a big fancy building for a reason. Proceed with caution.

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