Focus on Eye Health & Safety //

Eye Disease in Diabetics & Seniors

Good vision is vital to every person but is threatened for people with diabetes and for seniors.  Poor vision is associated with more frequent falls and can result in the loss of the ability to drive.  Poor vision decreases your ability to continue with favorite activities and independent living.  Everyone over 65 should receive a complete eye exam every year.  There are many diseases that can rob us of our vision, but the most common are cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.

Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye.  Light is focused on the retina by the lens, so any darkening of the lens decreases and distorts the light, resulting in poor vision.  Cataracts are common in older people. They are associated with diabetes, frequent exposure to sunlight, smoking, high blood 

pressure, and obesity.  Cataracts cause a slowly progressive vision loss and can be especially difficult at night.  You may notice that you need more light to read or that the image is blurred.  An eye exam can detect the cataract and it can be replaced with a glass lens to restore your vision.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness for people over 60 years old.  It is caused by eye pressure that damages the optic nerve.  The nerve is progressively damaged and the resulting vision slowly becomes narrower.  The high pressures can be detected at an annual eye exam and treatment can stop the loss of vision.

Photo Credit: Pacific Eye Specialists

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by swelling and leakage of the vessels in the retina.  The retina is the light sensitive tissue in the back of the eye, and these changes progressively destroy vision.  Often the vision changes are not noticed initially but slowly progress until severe irreversible vision loss occurs.  If you are a diabetic, you can reduce their risk of retinopathy by good control of glucose and avoiding high blood pressure.  You should keep your glycated hemoglobin (A1C) below 7% and your blood pressure below 140/90 mmHg.  Retinopathy can start early in the course of diabetes, so someone with elevated blood glucose (pre-diabetes) and all diabetics should have an diabetic eye exam as soon as the condition is discovered and at least every year after that.  There are many treatments for diabetic retinopathy, but earlier treatment is the simplest and the most likely to preserve eyesight.

Macular degeneration is a breakdown of the macula, the small area of the retina that has the most light-detecting cells and the best vision.  The process is associated with aging and causes blurriness or distortion of your vision.  Side vision is usually not affected. Eating colorful fruits and vegetables that are rich in lutein may reduce your risk for developing macular degeneration.

The most important way to preserve your vision is to protect your eyes from injury and have annual complete eye exams.

Preventing Eye Injuries

There are over 100,000 eye injuries in the United States every year and 13,000 result in loss of vision.  Ninety percent of these injuries could be prevented with the proper use of protective eyewear.  Most worksites have strict eye safety standards, but only an estimated 35% of workers follow safe practices.  Work activities that are a high risk for eye injury include welding, pounding, grinding and pouring chemicals.

Over half of eye injuries occur at home where use of protective eyewear is even less common.  Eye injuries can happen in the home by splattering hot grease, hammering nails, curling iron burns, using power tools, mowing the lawn, using a chain saw, or getting splashed with cleaning solution. 

Sports injuries are third common cause of eye injuries.  Protection is especially important while playing baseball, basketball, racket sports, soccer, field hockey, ice hockey, and lacrosse.

Eye protection must be appropriate for the activity being performed.  The first line of safety is using proper machine guards and safe work practices appropriate for the activity being performed.  Safety glasses are made of shatter-proof materials and have “Z87” stamped on the lens or frame.  They should include wide shields and be a wraparound style.  They are appropriate for general working conditions where occasional dust or flying chips may be produced.  You should also use other precautions to prevent being in the direct line of flying particles.  Goggles provide increased protection by providing total enclosure of the eye. They are also made of shatter-proof materials.  Face shields provide protection for the eyes and face from chemicals and blood.  Helmets with built-in eye shields provide protection for the eyes and help to prevent head injury.  These are used for welding and many sports. 

Eye protection is also needed for ultraviolet (UV) exposure from sun light, special lighting and welding.  These sources can cause severe painful injury to the cornea as well as cataracts.  High intensity metal halide lights in gymnasiums and warehouses have a light source covered by a protective glass envelope.  If these are used after the glass envelope has been broken, they can cause high UV light exposure and eye pain from corneal injury.  Sunlight is especially dangerous during mid-day, when flying, and when reflected off the water or snow.

If you get an object in your eye, it’s important not to touch or rub the eye.  If the object is stuck in the eye, do not remove it.  If you have a chemical splashed into the eye, flush the eye with clean water.  All eye injuries should be medically evaluated as soon as possible.

Seward Community Health Center

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PO Box 2895

Seward, Alaska 99664

Phone 907-224-2273​

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