Lifestyle

Links between diabetes and failing eyesight emphasized

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

Tacoma optometric physician and diabetes patient Dr. Paul Chous wrote a book one year ago explaining the connection between diabetes and impaired vision, and possible blindness.

He said there was not enough information on the link between diabetes and eye deterioration, as well as its prevention.

Chous should know. He credits two optometric physicians with saving his eyesight.

As a college senior in 1985, he ignored the diagnoses of the early stages of diabetic retinopathy — the deterioration of the retina caused by diabetes. But with the urging of his brother, an aspiring optometrist, Chous saw a retinal specialist and learned his vision had deteriorated. Laser eye surgery helped save his vision.

Undetected, the condition continues to deteriorate the eyes. Blurred vision is one symptom.

Chous had the laser eye surgery just in time. “I was within probably a few weeks or a month or so before I lost my vision,” he said.

“I made the decision to become an optometric physician after two other optometric physicians helped prevent me from going blind,” he said. “It’s really, really important that patients be given the maximum amount of information so that they can control or manage their own condition.”

He said that through his book, “I can reach individuals beyond my patients by compiling the best knowledge on diabetes management in a single place together with my own studies and experience.

“The most interest in my book has come from primary-care physicians, and I think it’s because in medical school, unless you become an eye doctor, you don’t really learn a lot about the eyes.”

Chous, who practices at Tacoma Chous Eyecare Associates in Fircrest, said he wrote the book in order to reach more people than his own client base, asserting there is not enough information on the link between diabetes and eye deterioration.

Optometrists and ophthalmologists, who specialize in eye diseases and treatment, emphasize the necessity for diabetics to have yearly vision examination. There are often few or no symptoms and no pain in the early stages of the condition.

The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC) estimates that retinopathy causes 12,000 to 24,000 cases of blindness annually.

Chou has some common sense advice for diabetics who want to preserve their eyesight: Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, for starters.

“See an eye doctor every year. Keep your blood sugar as close to normal as possible. Keep your blood pressure as close to normal as possible.”

And finally, he said, make sure you have low density lipoprotein — or the “bad” cholesterol that clogs arteries and blood vessels.

Federal Way optometrist Dr. Curtis Baxstrom, of the Northwest Vision and Learning Center, agrees Chous’ assessment of preventive action and protecting the eyes by caring for general health.

For diabetics to slow the onset of diabetic retinopathy, “the primary thing is to control the diabetes” through insulin and food, Baxstrom said.

“You want to get the body healthy first,” he said.

He added that optometrists and ophthalmologists work in conjunction with primary-care physicians to help treat diabetes and its related eye conditions.

But if swelling in the retina does occur and deteriorates vision, laser eye surgery can help slow down the damage, though it won’t cure the condition.

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