Diabetes is the most common metabolic disorder in the United States. Studies estimate that around 1 in 10 Americans – approximately 37.3 million – suffer from diabetes, even if they don’t know it yet. Many people live with diabetes and are yet to be diagnosed. In fact, some people with the condition are only made aware of the condition after a visit to their eye doctor.
To understand how diabetes affected the eyes, it’s first important to know what diabetes is. Diabetes is a condition that occurs when the amount of sugar in your blood becomes too high. This happens because of a problem with the way that your body turns food into energy. When we eat or drink, what we consume is broken down into different elements. The sugars are released into our bloodstream where they provide us with the energy we need to function. When our blood sugar level increases, our bodies should release insulin which enables our body to store the excess sugar, but in people with diabetes this doesn’t happen. Their bodies’ either don’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin properly. This causes blood sugar levels to rise and can lead to serious health problems.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects your eye health and vision. The longer someone has diabetes, the more likely they are to suffer from diabetic retinopathy. It affects the blood vessels that deliver blood and nutrients to the retina – the area of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye. In patients with uncontrolled diabetes, persistently high blood sugar levels cause damage to these blood vessels, limiting blood flow to the retina and causing vision problems.
Diabetic retinopathy usually develops over a number of months and years, meaning that symptoms develop slowly and may be very subtle and easily overlooked. Nevertheless, if you have diabetes or if you notice any of the following symptoms, you should speak to your eye doctor as soon as possible:
Gradually worsening vision
Shapes floating in your vision
Blurred or patchy vision
Fluctuations in vision, especially after eating
Sudden vision loss
Your eye doctor will conduct a series of assessments to determine if you are affected by diabetic retinopathy and how advanced it is. From this point, they will be able to recommend an appropriate treatment.
If you have diabetes or prediabetes, you should be scheduled for an annual diabetic eye exam. This may take place alongside a normal comprehensive eye exam. The purpose of this exam is to monitor if and how your diabetes is affecting your vision and recommend treatment to preserve your eyesight and the impact that your condition has on your vision.
A diabetic eye exam contains several elements.
1. A visual acuity test - Your eye doctor will ask you to read letters off of a chart to determine how clearly you can see at different distances. This will tell your eye doctor whether you have a refractive eye error that means you would benefit from wearing prescription lenses in either glasses or contact lenses.
2. Dilated eye exam - Your eye doctor will require your eyes to be dilated for part of your diabetic eye exam since part of the exam involves looking at the back of the eye, where the retina is. Dilation is performed using eyedrops, which may sting for a few seconds when they are applied. You’ll also find that your eyes are more sensitive to light while they are dilated as your pupils will be large. They will also cause your vision to become blurred. Once your pupils are dilated, a special camera will be used to take images of the inside of your eyes. You’ll need to look into the lens and will see a bright flash as a picture of the back of your eye is captured. Your eye doctor will then use these pictures to see if there is any evidence of diabetic eye disease.
In some instances, patients are referred for a special test known as a fluorescein angiography. This is where a special fluorescent dye is injected into one of your veins. This dye will travel to the blood vessels serving the retina and reveal changes in the structure and function of the retinal blood vessels. Your eye doctor will be able to advise you if you require this type of assessment.
The best way to treat diabetic retinopathy, and in fact to slow it from occurring, is to make sure that your diabetes is well-controlled – whether that is through diet, medication or a combination of the two. However, if the condition has already started to develop, there are treatments available which could prevent your vision from getting any worse. These include nutritional supplements, laser treatment to destroy leaking blood vessels, and injections to prevent the growth of new ones. In some cases, patients with advanced diabetic retinopathy may be offered surgery to remove scar tissue and pockets of blood that may have formed.
If you have diabetes and would like more information about diabetic retinopathy, please get in touch with our dedicated eyecare team at Seabert Eye Care in Burleson, Texas by calling (817) 857-8700 today.