Answers by Dr. Melanie Thares, an optometrist at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota, located in St. Cloud
Why do I need to have my eyes checked if I have diabetes?
1) Can diabetes really affect my vision?
Yes it can. Individuals who have high blood sugar are at risk of developing a common eye disease called diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults. When blood sugar levels are high it causes damage to the blood vessels in the retina (a layer of cells in the back of the eye). When these blood vessels become damaged, they begin to swell and leak. This can cause further problems and result in vision loss.
2) What eye conditions can occur due to diabetes?
Diabetes can cause diabetic retinopathy, macular edema, glaucoma, and cataracts.
a) As mentioned above, diabetes can lead to diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy occurs in two stages, early and advanced. The early stage (or nonproliferative) is when the blood vessels within the retina begin to swell and leak. This causes the macula to swell resulting in visual distortions. This is called macular edema and is the most common cause of blindness in people with diabetic retinopathy. The advanced stage (or proliferative) is when the retina begins to grow new blood vessels. These new blood vessels are unstable and leak easily into the structure of the eye called the vitreous. This can cause vision to be blocked by the fluid and can also result in further complications that could lead to complete loss of vision.
b) Diabetes can also lead to glaucoma. Glaucoma is an eye condition that is caused by damage to the optic nerve. This damage is typically caused by too much pressure within the eye. This is a slow progressing condition in which many individuals don’t have noticeable symptoms. Diabetic patients are twice as likely to develop glaucoma. It can cause two different types of glaucoma-- open angle and neovascular. This happens when diabetic retinopathy forms weak new blood vessels. These new blood vessels cause an obstruction in the normal drainage flow of the eye. If there is an obstruction, then fluid is unable to leave the eye which results in increased pressure.
c) Cataracts are another eye condition that can be caused by diabetes. Cataracts are a clouding (or opacification) of the normally clear lens in the eye. Although everyone will eventually develop cataracts, individuals with diabetes are likely to develop cataracts at a much younger age. This can happen due to high blood sugar levels that cause deposits to build up in the lens.
3) What is the best way to prevent blindness from diabetes?
The best way to prevent blindness from diabetes is yearly comprehensive eye exams with dilation, keeping your blood sugar levels in your target range, keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in your target range, maintaining a well-balanced diet and staying active.
If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you should be checked for diabetic retinopathy immediately. If you are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you should be checked within 5 years of your diagnosis. Once the initial dilated exam has been performed, your eye doctor will determine if yearly eye exams are sufficient or if more frequent checkups are warranted.
Find out more
Dr. Mitchell Gossman is a comprehensive ophthalmologist, along with Dr. Melanie Thares, an optometrist, at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota. The office is located at 628 Roosevelt Road, Suite 101, in St. Cloud. To make an appointment or to learn more, call 320-774-3789 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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