(NECN: Britney Glaser) - Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness. It's something that can oftentimes be diagnosed during an eye exam as an eye doctor sees cholesterol build-ups and abnormal blood vessels inside the eye.
Rogelio Gonzalez never thought he had a problem with his vision or health until a routine eye exam nine years ago.
"When they came in and checked my eyes, they discovered that I had diabetes," Gonzalez confirmed.
When it came to his vision, some of the damage to his eyes had already been done, something ophthalmologist Alan Lacoste sees daily in diabetics.
"These are cholesterol deposits from the damaged blood vessels and we have hemorrhage here, these are abnormal blood vessels," Dr. Lacoste explained.
Untreated, that damage can lead to blindness. Doctor Lacoste says eye doctors get a unique look at how the body works overall through the eye.
Dilated eye exams are the first step for an eye doctor to check the extent of damage in the eyes, in addition to an angiogram, which is performed by injecting dye into the arm or hand. As the dye travels through the circulatory system and up to the eyes, it can give a more detailed look at what's going on inside the eye.
"Now as it progresses, it's beginning to show the damage and all of this is abnormal," said Dr. Lacoste.
Argon laser therapy cauterizes or burns the damaged area, stopping the progression. And it shifts oxygen from the retina to the main nerve in the eye.
"The laser is a very special, very focused light beam that goes into the eye. It cauterizes these areas where the damage is the worst," explained Dr. Lacoste.
The tiny laser can be used numerous times over several years.
Gonzalez has had the laser on both eyes and says he's grateful his diabetes was detected in time to save his vision.