Protect Your Eyesight

When you look at an object, the image is sent from the lens of your eye through a clear gel-like liquid to the retina. The retina is the back surface of the eye. The retina sends the picture to the brain through the optic nerve.

Your eyes contain some of the tiniest blood vessels in your body. In people with diabetes, eye disease occurs when weak spots develop in the walls of these tiny blood vessels. This causes them to leak, swell or break. These spots become small red dots on the surface of the retina. Scarring occurs as the area heals. This is referred to as background retinopathy. When blood flow is stopped, this creates new blood vessels, but they are not healthy. These blood vessels are fragile and can leak. If this happens, it may appear as if you are looking through a pool of blood or a spider web. This is known as proliferative retinopathy. This is very serious. Laser surgery is required to treat this. Your vision may improve, but the scarring can cause some loss of vision.

The vitreous is the clear gel that fills the center of the eye. Scarring can form an attachment between the retina and the vitreous. If the scars tighten, the retina can be torn. This is called retinal detachment. If this happens, complete or partial loss of vision happens suddenly. This has been described as a black curtain or black streaks coming across the eye.

THIS IS AN EMERGENCY! GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM OR SEE YOUR OPHTHALMOLOGIST RIGHT AWAY.

Another problem that can occur is cataracts. Cataracts have nothing to do with circulation. The result is an accumulation of sugar in the lens of the eye. This causes swelling and clouding. Eye disease is one of the long-term problems of diabetes. People with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are at risk. You may not have symptoms or even notice any change in vision. Treatment at an early stage can prevent severe visual loss and blindness.

Important things to remember Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. Most blindness is preventable with good blood sugar control. Regular eye exams by an eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist) are important to protect your eyesight. People with type 1 diabetes over the age of 10, should get an exam 3-5 years after a diagnosis of diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes should get an exam when they are first diagnosed. After the initial eye exam, you should have your eyes checked yearly.

Pregnancy tends to bring on eye disease. Women who are planning to have children, should have an eye exam before getting pregnant. When pregnant, a woman should have another eye exam in the first trimester, during pregnancy and one year after delivery. If you develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol or kidney disease, you may need to have an eye exam more often. This also applies if your diabetes is not in good control or you already have eye damage.

You can lower your risk of developing eye disease by controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure. If you smoke, stop. Smoking can damage the small blood vessels, especially in the eye. Report any eye problems or changes you may have to your doctor.

Part of your exam may include having your eyes dilated. When you have your eyes examined, ask your eye doctor about the exam results. Also, ask your doctor to send the results to your primary care doctor.

How can your doctor help? Discuss the results of your eye exam with your doctor. Also, find out when your next check-up should be. Together, make a plan to control blood sugar.