National Diabetes Month

Since November is National Diabetes month, I figured there would be no better time to talk about the effects that diabetes has on the eyes.  According to the American Diabetes Foundation, 26 million people in this country currently suffer from diabetes, and 79 million adults are “pre-diabetic” and will have type 2 diabetes in the next couple of years.  Most diabetic patients know about the health issues associated with their disease, but many people do not know that diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of adult onset BLINDNESS in theUnited States. 

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin, which is responsible for maintaining sugar levels, or parts of the body become desensitized, or ignore, the insulin.  When this happens the glucose or “sugar” levels in the blood start to go up.  The extra glucose in the blood damages the blood vessels all over the body and can lead to foot damage, skin damage, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and several other complications including BLINDNESS. 

How does diabetes affect the eye?

The blood vessels in the retina are small and fragile, and over time they begin to weaken, swell, and eventually they will start to leak.  The weak and damaged vessels do not get enough blood to the retina and ultimately the retina will start to grow new blood vessels to help the eye.  That’s great, right? WRONG!!  The new blood vessels are fragile and inefficient and can leak blood into the vitreous (the jelly substance that fills the eye).  When there is blood in the eye it is very hard to see through and vision can drop quite drastically. 

When the new blood vessels die and scar over there is a “pulling” on the retina and patients are at risk for a retinal detachment.  If the retina becomes detached from the back of the eye the patient will see a lot of flashing lights and they may see a curtain come down over the vision.  If the detachment is not handled quickly the loss of sight or blindness will be permanent so call your eye doctor as soon as these symptoms arise. 

How do I prevent these problems?

The only way to avoid these problems is to control blood sugar with diet, exercise, and medication.  It is imperative that diabetic patients monitor their sugar levels daily and see their primary care doctor or endocrinologist at recommended intervals.  Yearly dilated eye exams are crucial to monitoring diabetic changes, not only in the eye, but the rest of the body as well.  The eye has very small blood vessels that can be easily seen with dilation and many times they get damaged first before the larger blood vessels and other organs in the body.  Your eye doctor is an important part of the health care team to help manage and control diabetes and dilated eye evaluations provide information on the effectiveness of treatment.

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