Did you know that November 14th is World Diabetes Day? The goal of this day is to bring awareness to diabetes and its impact on overall health as well as promote prevention and education of diabetes. As eye health providers, we see patients every day with diabetes and we work with their primary care doctors or endocrinologists to provide care. Most people do not realize that diabetic eye disease is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. Having a comprehensive dilated eye exam each year is important for any patient with diabetes because it provides healthcare providers with a marker for how well that patient's diabetes is being controlled.
Diabetes can affect vision in several different ways.
We often hear blurry vision as a common complaint in patients who have recently been (or have yet to be) diagnosed with diabetes. This is often due to a shift in the prescription due to changes with the lens inside the eye. As blood sugar stabilizes, we typically see stabilization of the prescription as well but this can take several months to achieve.
Another effect we see from diabetes is an earlier onset of cataracts. A cataract is a cloudiness that forms inside the eye and, although they can happen to anyone, patients with diabetes tend to get them earlier and they progress more rapidly. Cataracts are treated with surgery, and most patients are seeing better the very next day.
The most serious way that diabetes affects vision is when diabetic retinopathy occurs. This is a disease of the retina (which is the inside lining of the eye) and the vessels that supply blood to the retina. In the most mild form of the disease we may only see a small amount of blood that has leaked from the retinal vessels. This may not affect vision or harm the eye, but it does indicate that blood sugar has been too high. In the more severe stages of the disease we may see larger hemorrhages or even irregular blood vessel growth. If left uncontrolled and untreated, this can lead to severe vision loss and even blindness. At this stage laser surgery or injections of medication into the eye are necessary to attempt to save vision.
If you have a friend or family member with diabetes make sure they are getting a yearly eye health exam. Caught early enough, diabetic retinopathy can be treated before it leads to loss of vision.
Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, amputation, heart disease, kidney failure and early death. Simple action can reduce the risk. Visit www.worlddiabetesday.org/prevent to learn more.
You can schedule a comprehensive diabetic eye exam by clicking here.