Diabetes and Your Eyes

Diabetes and Your Eyes

What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic disease that prevents your body from making or using insulin, which in turn leads to increased sugar levels in your bloodstream, known as high blood sugar.

How does diabetes affect the eye?
Diabetes and its complications can affect many parts of the eye. Diabetes can cause changes in your prescription as well as cataracts, glaucoma, paralysis of the nerves that control the eye muscles or pupil, and decreased corneal sensitivity. Visual symptoms of diabetes include fluctuating or blurring of vision, occasional double vision, loss of visual field, and flashes and floaters within the eyes. Sometimes these early signs of diabetes are first detected in a thorough examination performed by an optometrist. The most serious eye problem associated with diabetes is diabetic retinopathy.

What is retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when there is a weakening or swelling of the tiny blood vessels in the retina of your eye, resulting in blood leakage, the growth of new blood vessels and other changes. If diabetic retinopathy is left untreated, blindness can result.

Can vision loss from diabetes be prevented?
Yes, in a routine eye examination, we can diagnose potential vision threatening changes in your eye that may be treated to prevent blindness. However, once damage has occurred, the effects are usually permanent. It is important to control your diabetes, as well as your blood pressure, as much as possible to minimize your risk of developing retinopathy.

How is diabetic retinopathy treated?
In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy is monitored through eye health examinations. If necessary, it may be treated with intraocular injections of anti-VEGF therapy (Lucentis, Avastin) or laser therapy. A bright beam of light is focused on the retina, causing a laser burn that seals off leaking blood vessels. In other cases, retinal surgery may be necessary. Early detection of diabetic retinopathy is crucial, as treatment is much more likely to be successful at an early stage.

Are there risk factors for developing diabetic retinopathy?
Several factors that increase the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy include smoking, high blood pressure, drinking alcohol and pregnancy.

How can diabetes-related eye problems be prevented?
Monitor and maintain control of your diabetes. Know your HbA1c values (your three month blood sugar measurement at the lab) and how to interpret them. See your physician regularly and follow instructions about diet, exercise and medication. See your optometrist for a thorough eye examination when you are first diagnosed with diabetes, at least annually thereafter and more frequently if recommended. A thorough diabetic examination involves examining the peripheral edges of the inside of the eye. This can be done ONLY with dilation or with a wide-field Optomap retinal scan. At Stickle & Strawn Optometry we have one of the only four Optomaps in the BC interior. Dilation drops are not required and the images obtained are used for comparison during future examinations. Retinal imaging is the best way to monitor for diabetic changes and is included in all full examinations at our office.

How do I prepare for a diabetic eye examination?
Bring a list of your medications, know your most recent HbA1c measurement, know your blood pressure and come on a day when your blood sugar is YOUR AVERAGE. High blood sugar increases the nearsightedness measured during your examination and can yield glasses that are not accurate.

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