Diabetes is a sneaky disease that can impact your body for years before you realize anything is wrong. The body’s ability to metabolize sugar is an important part of a healthy body. When it can do that no longer and goes untreated, the effects can be deadly.
While diabetes can impact many different aspects of your body, your eyes can develop diabetic retinopathy. The best way to combat this is with a diabetes eye exam. If you have diabetes, then tell your optometrist so they can make sure your eyes are healthy.
We’ll explain why the eye exam is important and how diabetic retinopathy affects your eyes.
How Does Diabetes Work?
There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is the most severe and occurs when the pancreas produces none or only a small amount of insulin. Insulin allows sugar to enter cells to create energy.
Sugars are found in many foods and drinks and in many forms such as sucrose and fructose. Type 1 diabetes happens in childhood or early adolescence and a small chance it can occur in adults.
There are no cure and people must treat it their entire lives, usually through the artificial intake of insulin. Medical experts believe that type 1 can be caused by genetics, certain viruses, and environmental factors. It can also be an auto-immune disease where the body attacks the cells that produce insulin.
Type 2 diabetes can happen at any time from adolescence to the elderly. Unlike type 1 where little or no insulin is produced, insulin is still created, but the cells of the body don’t use it effectively. It’s commonly referred to as insulin resistance.
The pancreas pumps out more insulin to get the sugar into your cells, but because of the resistance, it can’t keep up. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type with millions of people suffering from it worldwide. Many don’t even know they have it.
If you’re overweight, have a family history, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other issues can cause a person to develop type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes and your Eyes
Diabetes can impact the blood vessels throughout the body and lead to a number of serious health problems such as heart disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, skin and mouth issues, and foot damage.
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when blood vessels in the light-sensitive areas of the eye are damaged because of diabetes. Sugar in the blood can cause blockages to blood vessels I the retina. Since many times diabetes can go untreated for years, the damage occurs slowly over time.
Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy occurs when blood vessels weaken and are the early onset of the disease. It causes small bulges in the vessels that can leak fluid and blood. It can also cause swelling of the nerve fibers in the retina called macular edema.
It begins with little or no symptoms and degrades over time. You may begin to notice vision spots, blurred vision, color issues, vision loss or empty vision areas.
As it advances, you can develop proliferative diabetic retinopathy where blocked vessels close off and cause abnormal blood vessel growth. These leak the jelly-like substance that makes up the center of your eye.
If gone on unabated, scar tissue can cause the retina to detach from the eye. Increased pressure behind the eye can lead to nerve damage and glaucoma.
Eventually, if diabetes and eye problems continue to go unchecked then it can lead to blindness. It’s important to catch this early before symptoms occur and that where the eye exam is important.
Get A Diabetes Eye Exam
If you have diabetes, then you should have a yearly eye exam that includes checking for eye problems related to diabetes. The tests, which include eye dilation, may not be part of the standard vision test, to it’s important to tell the doctor you have diabetes.
If you’re diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, then the American Diabetes Association suggests you have your first exam within five years of diagnosis. People with type 2 diabetes should get an eye exam soon after diagnosis.
The reason is type 2 diabetes can go undiagnosed for years, so retinopathy may already begin developing. If the eye tests come back negative, then the doctor will want to have the test done every year to make sure you don’t develop it.
The tests include eye dilation so the optometrist can see inside the eye. They may also do angiography where they inject yellow dye and take pictures to see if any vessels are blocked or leaking.
If you do have diabetic retinopathy, then the number of exams increases depending on the severity. If it’s developed to the point where you have cataracts or glaucoma or a detached retina, then treatment may also include optical surgery.
Controlling And Preventing Diabetic Retinopathy
The best way to prevent or control existing retinopathy is to control your diabetes. If you don’t have the excess sugar buildup in your blood, then the retinopathy shouldn’t occur or worsen.
If retinopathy advances, then even diabetic control may not be enough to stop it from getting worse. There are a number of medications to help prevent macula swelling and improve vision. Drugs like Avastin are injected into the eyes to stop the swelling.
Optical laser surgery can help stop leaking blood vessels and reduce retinal swelling. It can also shrink blood vessels. If it’s advanced, the doctor can remove some of the jelly and blood from leaking vessels to help the eye focus better and remove scar tissue.
Don’t Mess With Your Vision
It’s easy to dismiss diabetic retinopathy at first because there are no symptoms, but if you wait until symptoms occur then it could lead to numerous health problems. It’s important to get a yearly diabetes eye exam to keep an eye on your vision health.
If you’re interested in learning more about diabetic retinopathy or the effects of diabetes, then please explore our site.