Did you know that diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in working-aged adults?
Many people don’t know about the correlation between diabetes and the eyes. I would like to increase awareness because early detection can help to prevent vision loss! In short, diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also known as blood sugar, becomes too high. This is typically diagnosed by a blood test given by your doctor and treatment is aimed at keeping your blood sugar at a healthy level.
Untreated or poorly controlled blood sugar can lead to diabetic eye disease. Diabetic eye disease, also known as diabetic retinopathy, affects the blood vessels in the retina. The retina can be thought of as the wall paper that lines the back of our eye. It is responsible for picking up the light that comes in and sending it to the optic nerve, which is similar to a large cable that connects our eye to the brain, allowing us to perceive what our eyes are seeing. Within our retina, we have blood vessels that supply nutrients and energy to keep the retina healthy. It is the blood vessels that become damaged in diabetic eye disease. In the early stages, the blood vessels become weak and leak fluid which can lead to swelling of the retina. In more advanced stages, new abnormal blood vessels can grow causing further damage. Diabetes not only affects the blood vessels in the back of the eye, but can also increase your risk of developing cataracts or glaucoma.
Now, you may be wondering what are the symptoms of these leaky blood vessels? In the early stages, someone who has diabetic retinopathy may not have any symptoms at all. If your blood sugar fluctuates, you may experience blurry vision for a few weeks until your blood sugar stabilizes. In the more advanced stages, you may experience blurry or distorted vision, floating spots in your vision, flashes of light, or dark areas in your vision and vision loss.
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, there are preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the chance of vision changes. The best way to prevent diabetic eye disease is to maintain good control of not only your blood sugar, but also your blood pressure and cholesterol. A healthy, active lifestyle and regular follows ups with your doctor are recommended. Because the early stages of diabetic retinopathy typically have no symptoms, people who have been diagnosed with diabetes should get a dilated eye exam once a year. At a dilated eye exam, your optometrist will examine the retina to look for any changes to blood vessels.
This ability to look at blood vessels is unique to eye care. This is the only organ where you can see blood vessels without cutting into the body! Many diseases can manifest in the back of the eye. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other systemic diseases affect the eyes. Even if you have not been diagnosed with any of these conditions, it is important to get your annual dilated eye exam because a disease may show changes in the back of the eye before you notice any systemic symptoms. Make your yearly eye exam with your optometrist today. Early detection, treatment and appropriate follow up care can help to prevent vision loss.
Rebecca Zaydel, O.D.