“I was feeling guilty because I never went to the doctor because I never got sick,” Riollano said.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on March 18, 2022. It has since been updated.
In September 2021, Luis Riollano, 31, noticed that everything around him was looking cloudy. Since he already needed glasses to see, he wondered if his eyesight prescription had changed.
But soon, he realized that his vision had worsened so much that he could barely see shapes and movements. “Everything was cloudy and looking milky and blurry,” he explained. “I thought maybe I need a new prescription.”
Worried, he went to the doctor, only to realize that the real culprit that was causing his blindness had nothing to do with his eyes. “I was already fully blind,” Riollano said.
“When I got diagnosed with advanced cataracts I was really really scared,” Riollano, 32, of Brooklyn, told TODAY. “Due to my age, the doctor was telling me that he suspected that maybe diabetes was in play.”
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes, caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina). It can cause blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated. #eyeHealth #youMustKnow #yourHealthMatters pic.twitter.com/hwadNpnuaC— GH Adolescent Health & Development Programme (@Adhd_Ghana) March 16, 2022
He visited Dr. Tommaso Vagaggini at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary at Mount Sinai to understand what happened.
“The most interesting part was seeing someone who was very young, 31, who … was at a juncture where the vision in both eyes was not only at the point of legal blindness but also really past the point of functioning vision,” Vagaggini, an ophthalmology resident at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary at Mount Sinai, told TODAY. “The second thing that was interesting was getting a sense of what was causing it. We don’t usually see cataracts enlarging in patients.”
The man also didn’t have a family history of cataracts or any genetic condition that would cause blindness, he explained.
“The other thing that came to my mind just looking at those cataracts on the exam is that these could be diabetes,” Vagaggini said. “By looking at his cataracts and seeing how hydrated they seemed and then the symptoms of fluid it just reminded me of a diabetic cataract.”
So, before deciding on an option to address cataracts, Vagaggini used a finger prick test on Riollano to learn his blood glucose levels.
In honor of #SaveYourVision Month we’d like to promote the increased need for those with #diabetes to check their eyes regularly. More than 4 million currently suffer from #diabetic retinopathy and related disorders in the U.S. alone. pic.twitter.com/3uDqt6nnEJ— UNITY Biotechnology (@UnityBiotech) March 15, 2022
His sugar was 465 mg, far higher than normal blood sugar levels, which is supposed to be 200 mg or lower, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “His glucose was through the roof, confirming our suspicion,” Vagaggini said. “That’s a point of being close to being dangerous to someone’s life.”
The diagnosis came as a shock to Riollano. While his mom has Type 2 diabetes, he didn’t really notice any symptoms. He shared that he felt more thirsty than usual and urinated more often but he thought it was because of a urinary tract infection. Also, he had been just as active as he normally would, he added.
“I was feeling guilty because I never went to the doctor because I never got sick,” Riollano said. “When my vision started going away then finding out it was cataracts then I had diabetes … it was very big.”
Since he lived alone, life was getting really hard for him to manage on his own. “I couldn’t do anything and I’m by myself,” he said. But, before he could get surgery, he had to get his blood sugar under control. He was put on medication and advised to undergo a lifestyle change, which did help.
#Smart #LED #Contact #Lenses for Treating #Diabetic #Retinopathy— Tali (@talius) March 15, 2022
The longer a patient suffers from diabetes, the higher the risk of developing retinopathy which can progressively lead to a decline in vision and even to blindness.... https://t.co/mwIKgKs2G2 pic.twitter.com/GLIAO1S8ut
Doctors had hoped that the surgery would restore some of Riollano's sight. But they weren’t entirely sure what they would encounter. “Point number one was to try and get as much of the vision back with the caveat at the time that we didn’t know what else went on in the back of the eye,” Vagaggini said. “We had no view.” But eventually, they made the right choices and Riollano's vision in one eye was restored.
Though seeing out of one eye felt tough, he was grateful to have his vision restored. “It was weird. I felt like I had a curtain on the front of my other eye,” Riollano said. “Seeing out of one eye is way better than not being able to see at all. It was difficult because I lost my hand-to-eye coordination.”
Three weeks after the first procedure, he underwent surgery for the remaining cataract and came out with flying colors. “We’re very happy,” Vagaggini said. “Now he’s 20/20 in the other eye as well.”
Riollano also noticed he had more energy after his blood sugar was well controlled. “I got used to feeling the symptoms of diabetes,” he said. “I noticed a big difference. I deal with more energy now.” Since undergoing surgery on his other eye, it feels like “a brand new world.”
Patients with diabetic retinopathy have thinner pRNFLs and peripapillary choroidal thicknesses, according to researchers. These findings may be useful in developing early changes before the development of clinically evident disease.https://t.co/sPcQWkAF67— Ophthalmology Advisor (@ophth_advisor) March 11, 2022
“I see actually way better than before,” he said. “Now I can see without glasses.”
Now, Riollano was a lucky man, but he wants to encourage others to regularly visit their doctors—even if they don’t feel sick. “I didn’t know that I had diabetes,” he said. "You never know when it is going to be too late when you finally go to the doctor."
Cover Image Source: Pixabay