November is diabetes awareness month. Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects overall health and how well certain organs function in the body. One such organ affected is the eye, with a condition called “diabetic retinopathy”. This is eye damage caused by diabetic systemic response in the body that leads to abnormal blood vessel growths, hemorrhages, cotton wool spots, aneurysms, blindness and more. With proper treatment and prevention, you can avoid problems with your eyes even if you have diabetes!
Diabetes is a chronic condition that people are either born with or they develop. There are two main types of the disease called Type I and Type II depending on how you get the disease. Many people can have diabetes genetically, and your risk for the disease is much higher if a parent or sibling has diabetes. This condition has to do with how your body regulates blood sugar. When you eat, your body breaks down your food into energy. Sugar enters your bloodstream, where it is carried to cells that need it for cell repair and energy production.
Hormone-regulated insulin is the substance that takes sugars from your blood and brings them to the cells in need. Without that insulin, your blood sugars would go very high, meaning your bloodstream is getting flooded with sugars that the body isn’t removing. This can lead to fatigue, dizziness, neuropathy, physical illness and even death among many other symptoms. When a person has diabetes, their body has become insulin-resistant, meaning that sugars are not being taken out of the blood by insulin. Diet, lifestyle and genetics all play a role in cells becoming insulin resistant, and once that resistance has happened, it can’t be reversed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 100 million people in the U.S. have either diabetes (30 million) or prediabetes (70 million). Prediabetes means your body is showing signs of insulin resistance, so diet and lifestyle habits must change to avoid the disease. Not only can diabetes lead to neuropathy, poor circulation, loss of limbs, kidney and heart damage and more, but it can also lead to damaging your eyes to the point of blindness. This is called diabetic retinopathy.
With diabetes, the blood vessels of the body become saturated with sugar. Nutrients aren’t transported to organs and tissues that need them, and that abundance of sugar in the blood can lead to swelling and leaking blood vessels. Your eyes are full of small blood vessels that nourish the eye tissues so nerves and delicate light-sensitive tissues (like the retina) can function. When diabetes is chronic or symptoms aren’t controlled, your blood vessels can either swell, leak or can have blood closed off to them over time. This can eventually cause damage that leads to blindness.
Because so many people in the U.S. have diabetes or prediabetes, diabetic retinopathy is one of the most chronic causes of vision impairment and blindness among adults. Up to 80% of diabetics will get diabetic retinopathy, especially if they have had the disease for 10 or more years. When blood vessels swell in the eyes and start to leak, they can hemorrhage blood. Any of these problems will distort vision so you see cloudy or blurry images or you see nothing at all. The retina and macula tissues in your eyes are vital for vision. The retina is a tissue that interprets all the light your eyes takes in, sending that information to your brain. The macula tissue focuses your detailed vision and central vision.
With diabetes, blood vessels can form on the retina over time that end up scaring the tissue so it can no longer take in light information correctly. With later stages of diabetic retinopathy, the macula part of your retina tissue can swell when blood vessels leak. Macular edema (or the swelling of the macula) can prevent blood from getting to the macula. Swelling and leaking around the retina tissue can prevent the retina from getting any blood (which means no nutrients). It eventually stops working from lack of nutrition.
Uncontrolled diabetes will lead to vision loss in patients. That vision loss can happen very rapidly without proper preventative measures. Often, you can’t detect vision complications from diabetic retinopathy until damage has already occurred. However, eye doctors have top-of-the-line machines that can detect changes in the blood vessels of your eyes before they cause you vision loss.
If you have diabetes, you will want to see your eye doctor more than the recommended yearly or bi-yearly visit. Doing that, as well as controlling your blood sugars, can help you keep your vision for life. To schedule your comprehensive eye exam, call Peeper’s Optical today at (303) 223-0401!