Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetes mellitus (DM), more commonly known as diabetes, refers to a group of metabolic conditions in which there are elevated levels of sugar in the blood over an extended period of time. Diabetes is either due to the pancreas failing to make enough insulin for the body to use, or due to the cells of the body not properly utilizing the insulin produced. There are three main types of diabetes:

  • Type I DM is due to the pancreas not producing an adequate amount of insulin.
  • Type II DM begins with a condition called insulin resistance, in which cells are unable to respond to the presence of insulin properly. A lack in the amount of insulin produced may occur as the disease progresses. The main causes of Type II DM are excessive body weight, poor diet and lack of exercise.
  • Gestational diabetes occurs when high blood sugar levels occur in pregnant women with no previous history of the disease.
How Can Diabetes Affect Vision?

The prolonged high blood sugar levels present in diabetes can lead to diabetic eye disease, a group of conditions that affect diabetics. All of these conditions have the capability to cause vision loss and blindness, and they include diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataract and glaucoma.

The prolonged high blood sugar levels present in diabetes can lead to diabetic eye disease, a group of conditions that affect diabetics. All of these conditions have the capability to cause vision loss and blindness, and they include diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataract and glaucoma.

Diabetic macular edema is a result of diabetic retinopathy, and causes swelling in the macula, or the area of the retina responsible for central vision. Vision loss can occur to varying degrees depending on the amount of edema present.

How can diabetic eye disease be detected?

Eye conditions related to diabetes can be detected though a comprehensive eye exam that includes the following tests:

    • Visual acuity testing – this is an objective assessment of the level of your vision
    • Tonometry – a test that measures the pressure inside the eye
    • Dilation of the pupils – enlarging the pupils allows for a better view and more complete assessment of the retina
    • Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) – this is a specialized scan that allows for a more detailed assessment of the optic nerve and macula.
How is diabetic eye disease treated?

Early-stage diabetic retinopathy typically does not require treatment, but more advanced disease may need laser treatment or injection of medication into the eye. Cataracts can be removed surgically, and glaucoma exacerbated by diabetes is often with topical glaucoma medications and surgery if necessary.

What can I do to avoid diabetic eye disease?

There are many measures you can take to avoid diabetic eye disease. The most important thing to do is to control diabetes itself by taking medications as prescribed, engaging in regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy diet. Better control of the disease as a whole can delay or even prevent vision loss. A comprehensive eye examination with dilation of the pupils should be performed at least once per year, especially since diabetic retinopathy can often be undetected by the patient until loss of vision occurs. With regular eye assessments, the probability of early detection of diabetic eye disease increases dramatically. Early detection and treatment along with careful follow-up assessments can prevent or limit vision loss.

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