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By Judith Whitehead

I have been working in the health field for the last 30 years, specifically ophthalmology, and have noticed that there has been an upswing in diabetes and diabetes in the eyes. I spend most of my time working in Buffalo, where the population is varied amongst many more types of people, and it seems that more than 75 percent of our patients are diabetic and are not controlling their blood sugars.

The great thing about working in ophthalmology is that we can spot diabetes in the eyes before many other specialists detect it. The eye is the only place where circulation can be viewed without any invasive procedures; all you need are dilating drops to view someone’s overall health status. People come in all week long with elevated blood sugars and many other health problems associated with this disease.

Diabetes can go along for many months or years undetected if people don’t go for regular health checkups and blood work. Many of our inner-city people don’t always have the funds to follow their health as they should and don’t realize that diabetes is one of the leading causes of blindness. It can be detected and monitored if people become proactive in their health.

Every week we do many laser treatments to the eyes, specifically to the retina, which is most affected by untreated diabetes. Laser treatment can stop the swelling and leaking blood vessels that damage the eye and the vision of these diabetics. It is the only hope of halting the damage, along with injections of special medication. For some reason, it seems that people are becoming diabetic more frequently these days; when I began to work in this field, they were fewer and farther between.

Taking medication for control of diabetes is only part of the treatment; eating habits is another. I am also seeing many more overweight patients than ever before. Their blood sugars range from 200 on up, which is much too high to maintain good health.

Maybe we need to offer more free training and nutrition information to the public. Maybe we need to stop the advertising on television and radio that prompts our population to buy unhealthy foods and snacks.

We can prevent diabetes. Those who know their family history need to be proactive. Start early in life taking care of yourself; if you find yourselves in an uncontrolled diabetic condition, know that there are treatments to preserve your eyesight. Don’t delay seeking help if you are having trouble seeing and if you are a diabetic.

Along with diabetes, we see diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration that are treatable as well, but patients need to take an active part in their own health. There are treatments for all these diseases. Don’t take your vision for granted; get a checkup today and ensure a lifetime of good vision.

Judith Whitehead of East Amherst has worked in ophthalmology for 30 years.