November Is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month
When thinking about complications of diabetes, it’s important that patients think about the effect high blood sugar has on the eyes, especially considering that the leading causes of blindness in America are diabetic eye diseases. However, the vast majority of diabetes-related vision impairment is highly preventable. According to the CDC, about 90% of vision loss cases due to diabetes can be averted. Researchers believe the high rate of blindness caused by diabetes-related diseases is simply due to a lack of awareness. To combat this growing public health issue, November has been dedicated as Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, which serves as an opportune time to educate patients about different kinds of diabetic eye diseases.
The most common diabetic eye disease is diabetic retinopathy, which occurs when excessive levels of sugar in the bloodstream damage the inner lining of the retinal blood vessels and impede their ability to function properly. As the disease progresses and vascular damage becomes more significant, the flow of blood and oxygen to the retina is disrupted.
In an effort to replace the damaged blood vessels, the retina starts to grow new, abnormal blood vessels. Instead of supplying the retina with blood and oxygen, the new blood vessels are exceptionally fragile, bleed into the retina, and/or cause scar tissue to form. As fluid and blood accumulate in the retina, it can lead to swelling of the macula, which is known as diabetic macular edema. In severe cases, diabetic retinopathy can cause a tractional retinal detachment, which occurs when scar tissue adheres to the retina and peels it off the wall of the eye.
If diabetic retinopathy develops and remains untreated, you may experience a wide range of visual symptoms, including:
- Linear distortions (straight lines appearing wavy)
- Blurred vision
- Partial or total vision loss
- Eye flashes and floaters
However, it’s not uncommon for patients to not develop any symptoms whatsoever during the earlier stages of diabetic retinopathy. As such, regular eye exams, in addition to properly managing your blood sugar level, are key to preventing the disease from getting worse.
If you have diabetes and are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with a diabetic eye specialist immediately. Remember, vision loss from diabetic retinopathy is often preventable, but it is not always treatable. Furthermore, there is no cure for diabetic retinopathy, although the disease can often be managed using eye injections of anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) medications.
Patients with diabetes are also at risk for glaucoma, which is caused when the optic nerve is damaged due to a buildup of pressure in the eye. Patients with untreated diabetic retinopathy have an increased risk of also developing glaucoma. Similar to diabetic retinopathy, there are relatively few symptoms early on, making it hard to detect until the condition has progressed.
Although cataracts can happen to anyone, patients with diabetes are more likely to develop them. When glucose levels are high, excess sugar can be found in the aqueous humor, which is the fluid that provides nutrients to the eye’s lens. The lens then converts this excess sugar to a substance known as sorbitol, which accumulates to eventually form cataracts. As cataracts develop, you may experience cloudy vision, diminished color perception, poor night vision, halos around lights, and double vision.
Protect Yourself Against Diabetic Eye Diseases
Your eyes are closely tied to your overall health, so make sure to speak to your doctor about managing your diabetes and finding the treatment that is right for you. Vigilance is key to preventing and managing diabetic eye diseases, so do not hesitate to schedule an eye exam, even if you’re not experiencing any symptoms. To schedule a diabetic eye exam with a retina specialist in Sacramento, Chico, Modesto, or elsewhere in Northern California, contact Retinal Consultants Medical Group today.