The results of a comprehensive eye exam? A lifesaving diabetes diagnosis

November 30, 2021
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month—a month not commonly associated with vision issues. But it should be. As patients Ron O. and Steve E. can attest, your doctor of optometry is often the first health professional to make the connection between vision changes and their sometimes-life-threatening underlying cause: diabetes.
Diabetes Awareness

“I always thought, ‘You go to your optometrist for your eyes. You go to your doctor for your body,’” says Ron O., a patient of Jon Bundy, O.D. But after his annual comprehensive eye exam led to a three-day hospital stay and a lifesaving diabetes diagnosis, Ron’s perspective on the importance of in-person eye care has changed dramatically.

“Your eyes are part of your body—it’s amazing how it’s all connected—and optometrists can see those connections. Sometimes when other doctors don’t.” -Ron O.

Ron O.
Ron O.

According to the CDC, over 20 percent of American adults living with diabetes are currently undiagnosed. That’s 7.3 million people completely unaware of the potential health risks they face—including heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and blindness—from a disease they don’t know they have. And up until early 2018, Ron was one of them. Although aware he was considered pre-diabetic due to his above-average glucose levels, Ron was confident in his health after having recently lost 35 pounds. His one nagging issue was his changing vision.  “I couldn’t tell you how many different cheater glasses I had bought,” says Ron. “And when I told my doctor, he didn’t seem concerned. But then when I had an eye appointment and mentioned it to Dr. Bundy, he made up an order for me to get blood work done.”

“I asked Ron if there was any chance he had diabetes. He said no as his doctor keeps a very close eye on him with blood work every six months,” says Dr. Bundy. “And I could have just updated his prescription to get him seeing 20/20. But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking, ‘Diabetes can cause this change.’ It’s what we call a myopic shift where patients get more nearsighted as the lens swells, and it can happen even when patients have no other symptoms.”

This same red flag—changes in vision seemingly out of nowhere—is what led Steve E., another of Dr. Bundy’s patients, to make an emergency visit outside of his annual comprehensive eye exam. “I noticed as I was driving that I couldn’t read the road signs, when just the day before, I could. So, I went in to see Dr. Bundy, and he gave me a thorough examination and said that there was nothing wrong with my eyes. But then he asked me if I was diabetic,” says Steve.

As Dr. Bundy puts it, “Diabetes affects every part—and every aspect—of the body, including the eyes, vision, and the brain. Sometimes patients will develop diabetic retinopathy where the blood vessels in the back of the eye start to leak blood and fluid, which we can clearly see when we dilate a patient’s eyes. But sometimes the only clue a patient might have diabetes is a change in vision.”

Diabetic retinopathy, one of the foremost causes of preventable blindness in the United States, is a clear-cut indicator of diabetes, having led to 431,000 new diagnoses in 2019 alone. However, vision changes in and of themselves can be caused by any number of underlying factors. That’s why optometrists find it so important to consider their patients’ whole-body health, including their medical and family history, when conducting a comprehensive eye exam.

“One of the things I love about my job is that I know the vast majority of my patients. They’re not just two eyeballs floating around in space—they’re connected to this person who has individual needs and wants and desires. I know what they do day in and day out. And this helps me help them.”

“One of the things I love about my job is that I know the vast majority of my patients. They’re not just two eyeballs floating around in space—they’re connected to this person who has individual needs and wants and desires. I know what they do day in and day out. And this helps me help them.” -Jon Bundy, O.D.

For their part, both Ron and Steve can’t stress the importance of in-person comprehensive eye exams enough. “It saved my life,” says Steve. “Having an eye exam is probably the smartest thing I’ve ever done, and Dr. Bundy was able to take care of a problem that I didn’t even know I had.”

And thanks to early detection, ongoing health management, and a series lifestyle changes, neither patient has diabetic retinopathy to this day.

Jonathan R. Bundy, O.D.Jon Bundy, O.D.

Providing comprehensive eye services, Dr. Bundy is medically trained to provide treatment and management of various eye conditions including macular degeneration, glaucoma, Keratoconus, dry or allergic eyes, cataracts and diabetic eye care.

Dr. Bundy received his Doctorate with honors from the UAB Medical Center’s prestigious School of Optometry. During his time there, Dr. Bundy served as President of the UABSO American Optometric Student Association. After receiving his Doctorate, Dr. Bundy completed an additional year-long residency in Hospital Based Primary Care Optometry at the Tuscaloosa, AL Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Dedicated to staying at the forefront of technology, Dr. Bundy is committed to providing state-of-the-art care in a warm, comfortable atmosphere. He emphasizes patient education with a caring touch.

Dr. Bundy is also keen to take on challenges while not taking himself too seriously. This came to the forefront on Season 13 of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior when “The Eye Ninja” made an appearance in Episode 2.

But don’t worry he’s not quitting his day job to compete on obstacle courses full time.

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