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An Eye on the Future

Diabetes is said to be one of the fastest-growing chronic diseases in the world, and in the United States alone there are 1.5 million new cases each year. The numbers for hypertension are even more alarming, with nearly half of all American adults experiencing high blood pressure and being in jeopardy of heart disease or stroke.

What, exactly, does this have to do with the eyes? Surely, vision is not the first concern that comes to mind for someone who receives a diagnosis of diabetes or hypertension—but it shouldn’t be too far down the list.

Over time, these conditions can lead to retinopathy, in which the retinal blood vessels are damaged and retinal function is compromised, resulting in vision loss or even blindness. The good news is that these complications can be avoided with regular checkups, and the team at Florida Retina Institute is eager to help.

“The eyes really are the window to so much of what’s going on in the vascular conditions of the body,” says Dr. Jaya Kumar, a board-certified vitreoretinal specialist at Florida Retina Institute. “Diabetes and high blood pressure affect every blood vessel in the body, so it’s really important not to ignore any symptoms you might be having. Early detection and treatment are crucial to helping prevent vision loss and blindness. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, make sure to get your eyes checked.”

For more than four decades, Florida Retina Institute has been providing groundbreaking care for a wide range of issues affecting the eyes, and it continues to treat patients of all ages at 10 locations throughout Central Florida. Retinopathy is one of the practice’s specialties, and its experienced staff of fellowship-trained ophthalmologists goes to great lengths to ensure the public is educated about the effects of diabetes and hypertension.

As Dr. Kumar notes, many patients are surprised to hear that vascular diseases commonly have a negative impact on their eyes. “Diabetes and high blood pressure often affect peripheral vision, meaning the edges of the retina, and don’t necessarily involve the central part of their vision until later on in the disease process,” she says. “They may not even have symptoms until they develop very severe conditions like retinal detachments.

“Some diabetic patients between the age of 20 and 40 have lost vision completely in one eye, and in the other eye they’re barely hanging on because there’s so much damage to the retina from a lack of oxygen (ischemia) or scar tissue. Ultimately, many require surgery, but unfortunately, their long-term visual prognosis can be poor due to the chronic disease.”

Dr. Kumar says the most common symptom of retinopathy is blurred or distorted vision, when patients develop macular edema or swelling in the center part of their vision. Increased floaters, flashes, decreased clarity of colors and difficulty with night vision are other issues to look for.

Of course, many patients do not have any symptoms at all until it’s too late, which is why routine dilated eye exams are so important. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends annual checkups for those with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and they should schedule a visit with an eye doctor a few months after their diagnosis. 

Patients are encouraged to control their diabetes or hypertension by keeping up with their medications, maintaining a balanced diet, exercising and regularly seeing their primary care physician or endocrinologist. If abnormalities in their eyes are detected, the best plan of action will be determined by Florida Retina Institute. 

“We have different treatments based on the severity of the disease is,” Dr. Kumar says. “We can inject medications in the eye; there are different medicines we inject, some of them are steroids and others are called anti-VEGF agents that can help prevent vision loss and improve vision. We have laser treatment available to prevent abnormal vessels from growing and bleeding. Then for the really advanced stages we perform surgery to clear blood or to repair retinal detachments.”

Dr. Kumar, now in her fourth year at Florida Retina Institute, is confident that patients will feel safe and secure the minute they enter the office. 

“It’s really patient-centered care, and we focus on tailoring treatments to what’s best for each patient,” she says. “We have an excellent, caring support staff, from the patient coordinator who answers the phone to the receptionist who helps with check-in and all of our technicians who walk patients through their checkups. We have received a lot of positive feedback from patients who actually enjoy coming to their appointments.

“Another highlight is our state-of-the-art technology that has really helped us grow our practice. We’ve even expanded into the teleretinal imaging platforms, especially during COVID. But the real key is the leaders of our practice, a group of 13 doctors all fellowship-trained at the top institutions in the country who are down to earth, compassionate and their No. 1 focus is providing excellent patient care.”

Florida Retina Institute

Multiple locations in Central Florida including Orlando, Kissimmee, Lake Mary and Clermont

(877) 357-3846