Saving eyesight from a distance

Of all the potential complications of diabetes, blindness is certainly among the most devastating for patients.

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness among working-age adults. The tiny blood vessels in the retina — the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye — become weakened by high blood sugar and leaky over time.

The good news is, early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of blindness by 95 percent. However, that requires regular eye exams — a simple and painless screening that many people with diabetes neglect.

To make it easier, University Health System introduced the IRIS program at many of its clinics. When the patient sees a primary care provider, a photo of the eye is taken and sent electronically to an ophthalmologist.

The ophthalmologist examines the image for signs of blood vessel damage and sends the results to the patient and the primary care provider.

If treatment is needed, a referral is made to a specialist. Treatment can involve medication that stops the abnormal growth of blood vessels, as well as laser surgery to remove the damaged vessels.

Reasons that patients with diabetes neglect eye exams vary. Often, people with early stage retinopathy have few or no symptoms — making it a low priority. That’s why making it easier for people to have their annual eye exams during a routine doctor’s visit can be a sight-preserving convenience.

“If there are signs of diabetic retinopathy, or changes to the back of the eye due to diabetes, then we can set them up with an ophthalmologist,” said Dr. Patrick Pierre, a family medicine physician at University Family Health Center — Southeast.

Since the program began about a year ago, more than 5,000 patients have been screened. About one in seven had some degree of retinopathy.

See the complete story on KENS TV here. KENS and University Health System have joined together to create the Real Men Wear Gowns campaign to raise awareness of men’s health issues.