Diabetes and Eye Health

Diabetes-related vision loss is the leading cause of blindness in Canada, with an estimated half million people living with diabetic retinopathy, one of the most serious diabetes-related eye conditions. Although some vision loss in diabetics can be temporary, related to swelling that occurs when blood sugar levels spike, many conditions can cause permanent vision loss if left untreated.

Diabetic Retinopathy

This disease affects the retina, a group of specialized cells located at the back of your eye. This is where “rod” and “cone” cells work together to create image impulses that are transmitted via the ocular nerve bundle to the brain, which sorts and “translates” the signals into an actual image. In diabetic retinopathy, the tiny blood vessels that provide nourishment to these cells become damaged, essentially starving the cells.

There are three types of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Background retinopathy describes a condition where some damage as occurred to the blood vessels, but vision problems have not yet developed. Management is critical at this stage to prevent vision loss before it occurs.
  • Maculopathy occurs when the central portion of the retina called the macular becomes damaged; significant vision loss can occur.
  • Proliferative retinopathy occurs when new blood vessels begin to grow. These vessels are weak and leak blood into the retina, blocking its ability to form images and transmit them to the brain.

Preventing diabetic vision loss

THE REFRACTOR

Maintaining good eye health is one of the most important things you can do to maintain your quality of life. If you have diabetes, the best way to prevent vision loss is by having a regular eye exam every year by an optometrist who is trained in both diagnosing these conditions and managing them. At Metro Eye Care, we provide complete diabetic eye care so you can feel confident your eye health needs are being met. To learn more or to schedule a regular eye exam with a Metro Eye Care optometrist, call us today at (416) 782-7301 or make an appointment online.

Other common causes for vision loss include glaucoma and cataracts:

Cataracts

Your eye contains a clear lens behind the pupil, which helps focus images on the retina at the back of your eye. When this lens becomes cloudy, it’s called a cataract. While cataracts can occur in any person and become more common with age, people with diabetes tend to develop cataracts at much younger ages and the progression of the disease is much more rapid than in the non-diabetic population. Treating cataracts requires the clouded lens to be removed and replaced by a manmade lens. Diabetics also tend to have more surgery-related complications than non-diabetics.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is damage to the optic nerve starting with a peripheral vision loss and leading to a complete loss of sight if left untreated. One of the main causes for nerve damage is elevated intraocular pressure (IOP). This build-up of pressure eventually presses against the optic nerve bundle located at the back of the eye, resulting in nerve damage and loss of vision. Treatment of glaucoma typically takes one of two courses: decreasing the amount of fluid the eye produces or increasing the eye’s ability to drain fluid. Both approaches use medicated eye drops, oral medications or both. Surgery and laser procedures can also be used to improve drainage.

The most common type of glaucoma, called open-angle glaucoma, causes no symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage when vision loss is already occurring. As a result, the disease has earned its reputation as “the silent thief of sight.” A regular eye exam is the best way to spot this condition in its earliest and most treatable stage.

Sources:
http://www.nei.nih.gov/news/pressreleases/012114.asp;
http://guidelines.diabetes.ca/CDACPG/media/documents/patient-resources/prescription-for-maintaining-healthy-eyes-feb2014.pdf;
500,000 with retinopathy stat: http://www.cnib.ca/en/news/Pages/20121114-Diabetes-Puts-Canadians-at-Higher-Risk-for-Blindness.aspx