Diabetic eye care during COVID pandemic

With review and feedback by CEENTA Ophthalmologist Omar Punjabi, MD (SouthPark, Concord, Matthews)

Due to the pandemic, many people have put off medical care they think is safe to postpone, but there are some conditions that still need regular treatment. People with diabetes, in particular, should continue to get their treatment.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a group of metabolic diseases where the body’s pancreas does not produce enough insulin or does not properly respond to the insulin it produces, resulting in high blood sugar levels. This is a serious and chronic condition affecting more than 29 million Americans. Type 1 diabetes is when your body doesn’t produce enough insulin. Type 2 diabetes is when your body either doesn’t respond well to your body’s own insulin, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, or a combination of the two.

Diabetes can lead to permanent vision loss due to issues like diabetic macular edema and proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

The risks of diabetes and COVID-19

People with diabetes need to be extra cautious during this pandemic. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a recent study showed people with Type 1 diabetes are three times more likely to die from COVID-19, while people with Type 2 are twice as likely, compared to people without diabetes. Half the people under 65 who died from the virus had diabetes.

That said, good glycemic control is the best defense against the coronavirus. This includes eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, not smoking, and taking all prescribed medications.

Diabetes and your eyes

One crucial factor in diabetic care is making sure you go for regular eye exams. Annual eye exams are important for early detection of diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma. All three can lead to vision loss, and both diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma can be irreversible. Early detection of diabetic retinopathy is critical, as symptoms occur late in the disease process when irreversible vision loss may have already occurred.

Going to the doctor now

Omar Punjabi, MD

“Please do not ignore your eye health due to the pandemic, especially if you are diabetic,” CEENTA retina specialist Omar Punjabi, MD, said. “Your eye doctor plays a key role in the management of your diabetes, and not just your eye disease. Early detection and management of diabetic retinopathy by a retina specialist may prevent permanent vision loss. In addition, the presence and severity of diabetic retinopathy can provide clues into your systemic health and can correlate with other systemic microvascular disease such as diabetic kidney disease and diabetic neuropathy. If you are diabetic, it is important to maintain tight blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol control to prevent systemic complications from diabetes, especially during this critical time.”

Many people are understandably concerned about being out in public these days, and postponing doctor's appointments may seem like a safe option. However, doctors’ offices like CEENTA’s have strict safety protocols in place to protect our patients. All patients must wear surgical masks, cloth masks, or protective face coverings. All patients will have their temperatures checked when they enter the building, and we ask no more than one person to accompany patients to their appointments, and even then only if physical assistance is needed. Patients who are feeling sick or have displayed COVID-19 symptoms are asked to please reschedule their appointment when appropriate.

Get the care you need

Diabetes is a serious illness, but proper care and treatment can not only protect your eyes, but it can protect you from even graver diseases like COVID-19.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. New patients can make appointment online with Dr. Punjabi or any of our nearly 50 eye doctors in North and South Carolina. Current patients can also make appointments through myCEENTAchart with physicians they have already seen.


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