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Hidden In Plain Sight — Everything you need to know about Diabetic Eye Diseases

Dr. Troy Ogden uses a field analyzer to observe peripheral vision
Hidden In Plain Sight — Everything you need to know about Diabetic Eye Diseases
07.11.2019 | Education

As we say goodbye to the summer months and step once more into the brisk, chilly Nevada air, we all look forward to a season full of holidays, starting with the fan favorite: Thanksgiving. A perfect blend of friend and family gathering, food, football, and an afternoon nap. Is there a more perfect day? 

Despite the festivities, we have to pay attention to health risks that can be often associated with our love of food. November is Diabetes Month. Diabetes affects millions of people in the US alone, but can be managed with proper attention and dietary care. It can affect every component in your body, including your eyes. Diabetic eye diseases are a group of eye problems that can be caused or accelerated by diabetes. This includes diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataracts, and glaucoma.

Because diabetes affects your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol, it can affect your eyes, too. When your blood glucose levels are too high, it can change the fluid levels of your eye and cause swelling, leading to blurry vision. This is usually temporary, as long as your glucose levels return to normal and aren’t abnormally high for a long period of time.

If your blood glucose levels stay high or untreated, it can cause more permanent damage, beginning with the tiny blood vessels in the back of the eye. High blood glucose can cause blood vessels to leak, scar, and grow weaker blood vessels that continue the cycle. This can cause bleeding into the middle eye that then causes pressure build up and loss of vision. 

If blood vessels become blocked, they can branch off and grow anew, but these newer blood vessels can be weak and grow on the surface of your retina. This is called proliferative diabetic retinopathy, and the abnormal blood vessels can lead to serious vision problems, especially permanent blindness. Diabetic retinopathy can also cause swelling in the macula, important for near sight focusing, like reading, driving, and seeing faces. This swelling is known as macular edema and can result in permanent partial vision loss.

Diabetes can also accelerate certain diseases like glaucoma and cataracts. Having diabetes can double the chances of getting glaucoma, while scar tissue and buildup from high glucose levels and weakened blood vessels can cause cataracts to develop earlier than they normally would.

While you might not be able to prevent diabetic retinopathy, certain measures can be taken to control your blood glucose levels. With regular eye examinations and early intervention, you can reduce the risk of vision loss. Keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as taking preventative measures against diabetes, can help in controlling your body. And of course, if you begin to notice any sudden vision changes, contact your optometrist.

There are some medical treatments for diabetic eye diseases. Anti-VEGF medications can be prescribed (injections into the eyeball itself) to block abnormal blood vessel growth in the eye, treating diabetic macular edema. Laser treatments in the eye can also be used to treat diabetic macular edema. These laser treatments are focused on leaky blood vessels, cauterizing them and stopping any leakage. There is also a type of surgery, known as vitrectomy, that can be performed by a surgeon to remove the vitreous gel in the middle of the eye. This is done in order to relieve pressure that is caused by proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

Of course, the easiest way to prevent diabetic eye diseases is to monitor your A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is an effective way to manage diabetes and how it affects our bodies, including your eyes. Aside from staying active and healthy, regular eye exams are also recommended if you are diabetic, prediabetic, or even have gestational diabetes.

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