• Judith Wallace

Diabetic Eye Disease

If you have diabetes, you know that your body doesn't utilize glucose properly and it therefore builds up in the blood stream causing a number of serious problems. And, you've probably learned about the importance of eating the right amount of carbs, getting regular exercise, taking care of your skin and taking your medications regularly. But perhaps you are less familiar with the impact that diabetes can have on your eyes.

Surprisingly, diabetic eye disease can actually begin while a person is in the prediabetic phase - sometimes before even knowing that they have diabetes.

Diabetic eye disease is actually a group of eye problems that can affect people who have diabetes. Often it comes on without any warning and it can begin to cause vision loss right from the start. This is why it is so important to take steps to protect your eyes...whether you are diabetic, prediabetic or simply have a family history of diabetes.

Let's take a closer look at how diabetes affects the eyes. When the blood glucose level stays too high - like it does with poorly controlled diabetes, the eyes can be damaged. Sustained high blood sugar damages the tiny blood vessels in the back of the eye. This damage can begin during prediabetes, before a person is even diagnosed as being diabetic. Damaged blood vessels may leak fluid and start to expand into the middle part of the eye, leading to scarring and other damage. Four very serious eye diseases begin with blood vessel problems. Take note - some of these problems cannot be cured, but they can be controlled if they are identified early on. The four eye diseases that most commonly threaten your sight are:

· Diabetic retinopathy - severe damage to the vessels in the retina of the eye causing serious vision problems. The retina is the lining in the back of the eye and normally senses light and turns light into signals that your brain decodes so you can see the world around you. If the retina is damaged it can't transmit signals to the brain.

· Diabetic macular edema - follows damage to the retina. The macula is the part of the retina that you need for reading, driving, and seeing faces. If the macula swells, vision is lost, sometimes to the point of blindness. It's important to control this edema right away.

· Glaucoma - increased pressure within the eye that ultimately damages the optic nerve. This nerve connects the eye to the brain. It must be identified and treated immediately to prevent blindness. While glaucoma can occur in people who do not have diabetes, having diabetes doubles the chance of developing glaucoma.

· Cataracts - clouding of the lens in the eye. This lens is important because it focuses images on the retina. It tends to occur with normal aging. Many people over the age of 65 have cataract extractions every year. However, having diabetes can cause cataracts to develop at an earlier age because of the effect of high glucose levels. Cataracts can be easily removed and replaced with artificial lenses, restoring clear vision.

​So, what is the "take away message"? It's a given that regular eye exams are important anytime vision seems less acute, blurry or dim. Often that first eye exam can occur when a school nurse sends home a note, or when a teenager goes for a driver's permit. But, for someone at risk for diabetes, waiting for problems before getting an eye exam can be too late. If you are diabetic, pre-diabetic or have a family history of diabetes, a full dilated eye exam is the best way to check for eye problems. See an eye care professional and take care of your eyes.

Be Well!

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