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Living Well

Diabetes and Eye Health

Last updated: Aug 08, 2016

Did you know diabetes can affect your eyesight in more than one way?

If you have diabetes, you are up to 40 percent more likely to develop glaucoma, 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts, and are generally more susceptible to complications of vision such as macular edema and retinopathy.

Link Between Diabetes & Eye Health

Monica Khalil, MD, an ophthalmologist for Summit Medical Group, says there is a clear link between diabetes and eye health. In fact, the most common cause of blindness between 20 and 75 years of age is complications from diabetes.

With numbers like these, it’s easy to see why vision is one of the biggest health concerns for most diabetics. Eye tests and retinal exams are of utmost importance. If there is indeed a condition present, prolonging treatment or avoiding a visit to the doctor can lead to loss of vision.

Each year, up to 24,000 patients lose their sight because of diabetes,
and most of these cases were due to infrequent examinations.

How to Protect Your Vision

How often should you see an ophthalmologist?

Dr. Khalil recommends the following for diabetic patients:

  • Type-1 diabetes patients should initially see their ophthalmologist within three to five years of their diagnosis, with exams to be continued annually.
  • Those with Type-2 diabetes should see their ophthalmologist as soon as possible following the initial diagnosis, with annual exams thereafter.

If you have diabetes and are concerned for your eye health, you can help protect your vision by controlling your blood sugar levels and glycemic index as much as possible. Keeping your blood sugar under control will not only reduce the risk of complications arising in your eyes, but it also diminishes risk to the rest of your body.

Retinopathy & Macular Edema

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the small blood vessels around your retina are damaged, resulting in blood and other fluids to leak into your eyes. This can cause your retinal tissue to swell and cloud your vision, usually affecting both eyes at once.

In the center of your retina is an area called the macula that is responsible for “pinpoint vision,” which helps you read and focus on objects. A buildup of fluid can cause the macula to swell, thicken, and subsequently distort your vision. In many cases, your primary vision’s deterioration can vary between mild and severe, with your peripheral vision remaining largely intact.

Treatment Options

If you suffer from either of these conditions, you can slow down progression several ways.

The first step: increase the frequency of eye exams; perhaps every four to six months instead of yearly.

If the case becomes more than mild, Dr. Khalil recommends seeing a retinal specialist who may perform a laser procedure for the retina that can reduce the likelihood of further damage. In the most severe cases, injections to the eye or medications may be recommended to help slow the process.

Laser photocoagulation can slow down the deterioration process greatly by minimizing the retina’s demand for new blood vessels. This can lessen the likelihood of abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina, which, in turn, can lessen the incidence of retinal bleeding. 

New Research on the Horizon

New research is always being conducted on diabetes-related eye diseases, and there are considerable resources being spent trying to find the best ways to slow or halt deterioration. Currently, one of the biggest areas of opportunity is figuring out a way to quell the eye’s need for more oxygen, especially following a laser treatment.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, whether type-1 or type-2, and are concerned about your vision, speak to your ophthalmologist as soon as possible, and maintain regular eye exams.

At the same time, take measures to control your blood sugar. Every positive choice can contribute to your long-term well-being, and catching symptoms in the early stages is best for prevention and treatment.

 Our Diabetes Self-Management Program
can help you control you blood sugar levels
through proper diet, exercise and medication.
We’ll also help you with eye and foot care appointments.

Call 908-277-8617 today

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