HEALTH TALK: How diabetes affects your eyes

Dr. Victor Emanuel MD
Dr. Victor Emanuel MD

Diabetes can increase your risk of eye problems. Your blood sugar levels may be high because your body can’t make or use insulin properly. Too much sugar can build up in your blood, causing damage to nerves and blood vessels in your body.

When the damage occurs in the blood vessels in your eyes, this can lead to vision loss or blindness. Anyone with diabetes is at risk, so it’s important to get routine eye exams.

Signs and Symptoms of Eye Damage

Diabetes can affect your eyes in different ways. When your blood sugars are high or when you start insulin therapy, you may experience blurry vision or other vision problems. But your eyes may be damaged even if you don’t actually notice any changes. Don’t wait for symptoms to arise to get your vision checked.

Diabetic Retinopathy

The retina receives light coming into your eye and sends messages to your brain about the things you see. When blood glucose builds up, the blood vessels inside the retina may be damaged – this is called diabetic retinopathy. At first you may not notice any changes. But as time passes, these blood vessels may develop fragile defects in the blood vessel walls, which can leak fluid. As diabetes progress, fragile blood vessels grow throughout the retina. This can result in severe loss of vision and even blindness.

Treatment – Laser Surgery

Retinopathy can be detected during thorough eye exams. A special type of angiogram uses dye to find leaking blood vessels. Early stages of diabetic retinopathy often can be treated with laser surgery known as photocoagulation. The laser seals the blood vessels in order to stop them from leaking and growing. Laser surgery cannot restore lost vision. Combined with follow-up care, however, surgery can lower your chances of blindness by as much as 90%.

Treatment – Vitrectomy

In advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy – if the retina has detached or a lot of blood had leaked into your eye – your doctor may suggest vitrectomy. This surgical treatment removes scar tissue, blood, and cloudy fluid from inside the eye. Vitrectomy can improve your vision, especially it it’s done before the disease has progressed very far.

Diabetic Retinopathy Risk Factors

Risk factors for diabetic retinopathy include how well you control your blood sugar and blood pressure. Control of blood cholesterol may also help reduce the risks. Your chances of developing diabetic retinopathy increase the longer you have diabetes. Eventually, nearly everyone with diabetes will develop some degree of retinopathy.

Diabetic Retinopathy Prevention

You can help prevent eye problems by keeping your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol under control. A major study found that people with diabetes who managed their diabetes intensely had ¼ the rate of diabetic retinopathy as those who followed standard diabetes treatment. It also helps to stop smoking. And it’s very important to get an annual dilated eye exam to detect early signs of the disease.

Glaucoma and Diabetes

Anyone over 40 is at increased risk of glaucoma, but people with diabetes are 40% more likely to develop it. Your chances increase the longer you have diabetes. Glaucoma may cause bright halos or colored rings around lights, but usually has no symptoms. Untreated, it can cause an increase in eye pressure that damages the optic nerve, resulting in vision loss and blindness. Glaucoma can be treated with drops to lower eye pressure, or laser or conventional surgery.

Cataracts and Diabetes

If you’re diabetic, you’re 60% more likely to develop cataracts – and you’re more likely to get them at a younger age than people without diabetes. Poor control of blood sugar can accelerate this condition. With a cataract, the lens in the eye becomes cloudy, which blocks light and makes everything look hazy. Cataract surgery – when the eye’s natural lens is replaced with an artificial lens – can help vision. Sometimes diabetic retinopathy can get worse after cataract surgery.

See Your doctor

If you’re diabetic and have any of these symptoms, see your doctor:

•    Blurry or hazy vision for more than 2 days
•    Spots, floaters, or shadows
•    Severe eye pain or pressure
•    Sudden vision loss in one or both eyes
•    Sense that a curtain is coming down over your eyes
•    Flashing lights, double vision, or blind spots
•    Waviness or distortion of straight lines

What I have presented to you are reasons you need to take diabetes seriously; you need to protect your precious ‘baby blues.’ In fact you need to start thinking about your kidney, heart, limbs, brain and so many other areas this dreaded disease can affect.

Take care now.

See you next week.

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  1. sweety
    November 2, 2013

    Thanks doc.

  2. TAZ
    October 31, 2013

    Thanks Doctor for the valuable information.

    There is a young lady in my neighbourhood who is in urgent need of care. Can you suggest where the treatments mentioned above can be received? Thanks

  3. D'antonio Samakan
    October 31, 2013

    A very informed and educational piece presented by Dr. Emmanuel do keep up the good work and continue to enlighten the masses about this dreaded disease

  4. Wesley Empress
    October 31, 2013

    Thank you Doctor

  5. Anonymous
    October 30, 2013

    :lol: :) :-D :wink: :( 8-O :lol: :-| :cry: 8) :-? :-P :-x :?: :oops: :twisted: :mrgreen: :roll: :idea: :evil: :arrow: :-o :!:

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