Like the photocopier your brain can still process pictures of the world with dust or grime on the retina. Damage to small portions of your retina will still permit remarkably clear video of the world for your brain. Even if 50 percent or more of your retina is damaged, you can still see.
Diabetes destroys the retina slowly. High sugar levels in the blood stresses out the vision cells of the retina. Eventually the retina starts to die bit by bit. This develops insidiously (big word my son taught me, it means you don’t know something is happening to you). It’s like soldiers marching single file at night. A single ninja continuously sneaks up and quietly kills off the last soldier in line so that the men in front don’t notice until the squad is nearly decimated. When this happens to the eye, it is called diabetic retinopathy.
The only way to know if you have diabetic retinopathy is to have a regular yearly eye exam with an ophthalmologist. Pronounced off-thaal-mall-o-jist. Say that tongue twister 20 times. This is a fancy word for a medical eye doctor. This type of doctor is different than an optometrist. Optometrists generally prescribe glasses and contact lenses. They can also screen for most eye diseases and refer you to an ophthalmologist when discovered. They are excellent at what they do, however they are not medical doctors. Ophthalmologists are medical eye doctors. In fact, they’re really eye surgeons. She can not only prescribe eye glasses and contacts, but also surgically repair certain eye diseases.
If you’re still confused between the two, here’s another way you can figure it out. We doctors love to stick letters behind our names. Those two letters after our names gives us a false sense of self importance. O.D. stands for doctor of optometry (eg. Drs. Leinwand, Faircloth and Raynor). M.D. stands for medical doctor or D.O. stands for doctor of osteopathy (eg. obstetrician Henry Hyman, DO). Ophthalmologists will have an M.D. after their name. I prefer to think of my M.D. letters to stand for massive deltoids but that would be a lie.
Our small town is fortunate to have several good optometrists but even luckier to have two skilled ophthalmologists Dr. Thomas Woods and Dr. Thomas Barowsky. Dr. Woods is my family eye doctor and for many years was the only eye surgeon here in Clinton before Dr. Barowsky. I have the utmost confidence in both of these great surgeons. Don’t be intimated by Dr. Barowsky’s physical stature. He’s built like a house from his rugby days, but he is a true gentle giant. Rugby is that weird sport from over- seas that looks like football without pads and helmets.
So if you have diabetes, be sure to see an ophthalmologist every year to check for the early stages of diabetic retinopathy.