Diabetes is a disease that can negatively affect health in many ways, including healthy eyesight.
Diabetes brings with it an increased risk of developing several different eye diseases. These are grouped under the umbrella term “diabetic eye disease,” and they include cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic macular edema (DME), and diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness all across the world and the most common cause of blindness in pre-retirement age Americans.
The Mechanics of Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy. Different factors, including genetics and some viruses, may contribute to type 1 diabetes. Although type 1 diabetes usually appears during childhood or adolescence, it can develop in adults. Despite active research, type 1 diabetes has no cure. Treatment focuses on managing blood sugar levels with insulin, diet and lifestyle to prevent complications.
Type 2 diabetes impairs the body’s ability to use insulin to regulate blood sugar effectively. Gestational diabetes works in the same way while it lasts! If this isn’t carefully controlled, this can lead to periods of high blood sugar. Sugar feeds harmful bacteria which if not held in check and be very hard on blood vessels. The bacteria that feed on the sugar are opportunistic and if they have a food source this significantly raises the risk of infection.
People with diabetes are two to five times more likely to develop cataracts than people without. The reason diabetes increases the risk of developing cataracts is that poorly controlled blood sugar can cause swelling in the lens of the eye, and it can also cause proteins to accumulate in the lens, making it cloudy. Fortunately, cataract removal surgery is a very common and safe procedure. We work with some of the best cataract surgeons in the world! When the time comes you will be in good hands.
Our eyes are constantly replacing the fluids inside them in order to keep functioning properly. Glaucoma is when that process gets interrupted, the pressure on the optic nerve increases, and can cause permanent vision loss. Diabetics are more likely to develop glaucoma. Unfortunately, glaucoma doesn’t always have symptoms in the early stages. If you are looking for one reason to get your eyes checked on a regular basis this condition is one that we recommend getting screened for at least yearly.
Diabetic Retinopathy and Diabetic Macular Edema (DME)
Retinopathy is when the blood vessels in the back of the eye leak blood into the fluid that fills the eye, appearing as dark blotches in the field of vision. Our eyes attempt to compensate for the damaged blood vessels by growing new ones. This isn’t very effective, though, because the new vessels are generally fragile and even more likely to leak than the original ones.
High blood sugar puts a serious strain on blood vessels, which is why diabetes is such a serious risk factor for retinopathy. If it advances far enough, diabetic retinopathy can become DME, which involves blurred central vision and can lead to retinal detachment and blindness.
Protect Your Sight with Regular Eye Exams
Your two best resources for protecting your sight from the effects of diabetes are you and your eye doctor. If you can keep your blood sugar as close to normal as possible, you will reduce your risk levels for these eye diseases much closer to what they are for people without diabetes. Meanwhile, when you come in for regular eye exams, we can keep an eye out for any early signs of problems, reducing the risk of blindness by as much as 95 percent.
We and our patients make a great team!