Diabetic Eye Care

If you have diabetes it is important to have your eyes examined annually by an eye doctor. Diabetic eye disease is the commonest cause of blindness in the working age population. Fortunately if caught early most of the complications of diabetic eye disease can be treated and vision loss can be prevented. This blog will help you understand how this condition can impact eye health.

How Does Diabetes Affect My Eyes?

Diabetes can affect the eye in several different ways. Large changes in blood sugars can rapidly change the glasses prescription or cause a clouding of the lens inside of the eye, sometimes referred to as a cataract. Additionally, the blood vessels inside your eye can change leading to a condition called diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic Retinopathy

diabetic eye problems

Diabetic retinopathy can be a vision-threatening complication of diabetes. Over time high blood sugars lead to changes in the blood vessels inside the eye. These changes can lead to fluid leaving the blood vessels and building up in the retina, called diabetic macular edema. This is the commonest cause of vision loss in diabetes. In more severe diabetic eye disease the blood vessel changes can prevent the eye from getting enough oxygen or lead to bleeding inside of the eye, called vitreous hemorrhage.

Diabetic Macular Edema

As the blood vessels change they can become leaky and fluid can leak out from the blood vessels and cause the retina to become swollen, a condition called diabetic macular edema. This can lead to blurring of central and reading vision. Fortunately, this is often treatable with eye injections or laser surgery.

Glaucoma

Globally, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness, and people living with diabetes are 40% more likely to develop glaucoma, a condition characterized by increased pressure in the eye and that if left untreated can cause blindness. The increased pressure damages ocular blood vessels and nerves.

Diabetes can lead to two different types of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma or angle-closure glaucoma.

Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma and occurs slowly over the patient’s lifetime. Diabetic glaucoma symptoms include a loss of peripheral vision. Often, the patient doesn’t realize they have this condition until damage to the optic nerve is severe and they are at risk of going blind.

Angle-closure glaucoma occurs when the angle between the cornea and iris narrows due to a sudden increase in eye pressure. It is less common and the symptoms, including headache, blurred vision, and pain, occur quickly.

Diabetes and Cataracts

If you are diabetic, cataracts may develop at an earlier age than for those who do not have diabetes. This means the lens inside of your eye will become cloudy leading to blurry vision and glare. Fortunately, the expert eye doctors at Discover Vision Centers are able to treat this problem with cataract surgery and restore vision.

Risk Factors for Diabetic Eye Disease

diabetic cataract

Length of Time with Diabetes

The longer you have had diabetes the higher the risk of developing vision-threatening complications. Even if the blood sugars are well controlled. This is why annual dilated eye exams are critical to your eye health.

Poor Disease Management

Poorly controlled blood sugars greatly increase the risk of vision-threatening complications from diabetic eye disease. However, even with good blood sugar control diabetic retinopathy can occur.

Other Medical Conditions

High blood pressure and elevated cholesterol have both been associated with increased rates of diabetic retinopathy. Having good control of blood pressure, blood sugars, and cholesterol levels decrease the long term risk of developing vision-threatening complications from diabetic retinopathy.

When to Call the Doctor

If you start to develop blurry vision or sudden vision changes you should see an eye doctor right away. More importantly annual dilated eye exams are critical to diagnose and treat diabetic eye disease early.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Eye Problems from Diabetes?

An eye doctor can diagnose diabetic eye disease with an examination. This often involves dilating the eyes to look more closely at the retina. Additionally, special pictures called optical coherence tomography can help identify diabetic macular edema. Other imaging such as a retinal angiogram or an ocular ultrasound is performed for more advanced eye changes by retina or diabetic eye specialists.

How Do Doctors Treat Diabetic Eye Disease?

Eye Injections

The most common cause of vision loss in diabetic eye disease is swelling in the retina. This can be treated by a variety of medicines that are injected directly into the eye to restore vision.

Laser Treatment

Different types of laser treatments can be used to cauterize blood vessels in the eye to treat diabetic swelling and other more severe consequences of diabetic retinopathy.

Vitrectomy

eye exam for diabetes

If conservative treatments fail, sometimes a special kind of surgery called a vitrectomy needs to be performed to remove blood inside of the eye or treat diabetic retinal detachments.

Cataract Lens Surgery

Cataract Lens Surgery is a procedure where the lens in your eye that has developed a cataract and become cloudy is replaced with a new lens. The new lens is called an intraocular lens or an IOL. Intraocular is a medical term that simply means “inside of the eye”. Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgeries performed worldwide today.

Steps to Prevent Eye Problems

Working with your primary care doctors to control your diabetes and other medical issues is the best way to decrease the chance of having vision issues.

Manage Your Blood Sugar

Good blood sugar control is associated with a decreased risk of vision-threatening diabetic eye changes.

Manage Your Blood Pressure

Good blood pressure control can also decrease the chance of having vision issues from diabetes.

Have Yearly “Dilated” Eye Exams

Yearly exams help to identify the early signs of diabetic eye disease. Monitoring and treatment at the key to making sure vision are preserved long term.

Watch for Warning Signs

If you develop blurry vision or other new vision issues it is important for you and seen by your eye doctor.

Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking can be beneficial for your eyes as well as other aspects of your health.

FAQ

What Happens During a Diabetes Eye Health Exam?

During a diabetic eye exam, a doctor will dilate your eyes and look inside of them to check for any abnormalities. If needed special pictures of the eye will be used to look at the eye in more microscopic details. 

How Often Should Diabetics Get Eye Exams?

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends yearly screening exams for diabetics. If changes are noted, sometimes more frequent exams are needed.

Conclusion

Diabetic retinopathy is a common cause of vision loss. Fortunately, with early diagnosis and treatment, most visual issues can be prevented. Call Discover Vision Centers at (816) 478-1230 to schedule your appointment, or connect with us here on the website.

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