Diabetes Awareness Month
November is National Diabetes Month, and November 14th is World Diabetes Day – a major campaign reaching over 1 billion people in over 160 countries. According to the CDC, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. Therefore, it is no surprise that such efforts are dedicated to bringing awareness to diabetes.
What is diabetes?
The simplified definition of diabetes is elevated blood glucose (sugar in the blood). The body uses sugar from food to provide energy for organs to function. Insulin is produced in the body to help extract the sugars from food and utilize them for cellular energy. If the body does not produce enough insulin or if the body does not effectively use the insulin it already has, then the overall amount of blood glucose increases. Rather than converting the sugar to energy, the sugar continues flowing through the blood vessels.
How does diabetes affect the eyes?
As a result of poor blood sugar control, the following eye diseases can occur to those with diabetes:
– Diabetic retinopathy (bleeding in the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye)
– Diabetic macular edema (fluid leaking and causing swelling in the area of the retina responsible for central vision)
Changes to vision occur when blood sugar remains elevated for several days or weeks. Vision does not return to its normal state until the blood sugar decreases. If the blood sugar is high for an extended period of time, then diabetic retinopathy and other findings are likely to occur. Because diabetes affects the entire body, both eyes are typically involved with diabetic eye disease.
What is diabetic retinopathy?
Over time, the excess blood sugar damages the walls of small blood vessels throughout the body. Some of the smallest blood vessels are located in the retina. These blood vessels become weak and can leak blood into the retina. If these blood vessels get blocked or stop working, the retina does not receive the necessary blood and nutrients to function. In response, new blood vessels grow on the top layer of the retina. These new vessels are trying to help the situation, but they are abnormal and always cause more harm than good. The presence of neovascularization (“growth of new vessels”) is a sign of severe diabetic eye disease and can lead to permanent vision loss. While blurred vision may occur with retinal bleeding, many people do not have any visual symptoms until severe retinal damage has happened and sometimes it can be too late to recover vision.
Who gets diabetic eye disease?
Risk of diabetic eye complications increases with uncontrolled blood sugar. The longer a person has diabetes, the greater the risk of developing diabetic findings in the retina. Blood pressure, cholesterol, and smoking are also risk factors that increase the likelihood of ocular complications related to diabetes.
Are there ways to prevent diabetic eye disease?
The most important aspect of treatment is decreasing and stabilizing blood sugar. If diabetic retinopathy is present, the treatment is based on the severity of damage. Some cases require eye injections, while others need laser surgery.
Control blood sugar by eating healthy foods, exercising, and taking medicine prescribed by your primary care physician or endocrinologist. Improving blood pressure and cholesterol are also beneficial for controlling diabetes.
Be sure to have a dilated eye exam every year, especially if diagnosed with diabetes. The sooner diabetic retinopathy is found, the better! Treatment can be quickly initiated in hope of minimizing the risk of further damage. If you have diabetes and did not have a dilated eye exam this year, call Weber Vision Care to schedule an appointment. You only get one set of eyes, so protect your vision!