For many Americans, November is the month we give thanks and get awesome deals on flat screen TVs on Black Friday. However, in the eye health community, November is the month we raise awareness for diabetic eye diseases.
Among numerous other complications, diabetes can also affect your eyes. Many people, including diabetics, are unaware of the ways the disease can harm the eyes. It may be a pancreas disease, but diabetes affects the entire body and not just the blood sugar levels.
Too many diabetics suffer from diabetes related eye diseases that are preventable. The trouble with most of these eye diseases is that they having little warning signs. It is for that reason that we should take the time this month to learn more about these all-too-common diabetic eye diseases.
What is a Diabetic Eye Disease?
Quite simply, it is a disease related to diabetes or your diabetes may increase your risk of it. There are four diseases commonly associated with diabetes: diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema (DME), glaucoma and cataracts.
Diabetic retinopathy and DME are two diseases specific to those with diabetes. Glaucoma and cataracts are two diseases not specific to those with diabetes. However, someone with diabetes will have an increased risk of developing cataracts or glaucoma.
Either one of these diseases can lead to severe vision loss or even blindness. So, early detection is always crucial in slowing down the development of these diseases.
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye disease among diabetics. It affects the blood vessels in the eye, and is directly related to blood sugar levels.
When someone’s blood sugar is out of control or not being properly regulated, it can affect the blood pressure in the vessels in the eyes. Unsurprisingly, these blood vessels are very delicate. Diabetic retinopathy causes them to burst and leak into the retina.
When fluid begins leaking into the retina, it begins to cause black spots in your vision. Light is unable to be reflected onto the spots of the retina that are covered in fluid.
As the disease progresses, new blood vessels begin to grow in place of the burst ones. However, these new blood vessels often grow abnormally. As a result, they end up leaking or bursting and causing more damage.
If diabetic retinopathy is allowed to progress to the final stages, it will cause complete blindness. No light will be able to get to the retina and you won’t be able to see.
Luckily, diabetic retinopathy is very easily detected. The first step is a simple comprehensive eye exam. The most common technique to detect it is to dilate the pupils to examine the back of the eye, where the retina is located.
A yearly comprehensive eye exam is crucial for those living with diabetes. If you can swing it, twice a year is even better. There are no warning signs for diabetic retinopathy before the disease begins to damage your vision.
Diabetic Macula Edema
Diabetic macular edema (DME) refers to the final stage of diabetic retinopathy. In this final stage, the macula of the eye begins to fill with leaked fluid. Once this begins to happen, the damage caused by it is often irreversible.
DME begins to affect the part of the eye that is responsible for precise vision. Your vision will slowly become blurred and less precise as the macula is filled with fluid. Once in this stage, it is difficult to treat. Quite often, the damage is irreversible. Many consider themselves lucky if they have any vision left by this stage.
Treatment for DME and Diabetic Retinopathy
The best treatment for these two diabetic eye diseases is prevention. Preventing them isn’t harder than regulating your diabetes and keeping the disease under control. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising frequently will also help towards preventing the diseases.
A diabetic will have a higher risk of developing cataracts. This disease affects the cornea of the eye, and it is the leading cause of blindness in the United States.
A cataract occurs when there is a buildup of protein on the lens of the eye. The protein in the eye, which typically keeps the lens clear, begins to clump together, which will affect a person’s central vision.
The protein clumps will be visible in the eye. They will cloud over the pupil (the black part of the eye at the center of the iris). They’ll give the cornea a gray, cloudy look. Cataracts can form in both or only one eye.
For the time being, there is no cure for cataracts; however, there are methods to better vision. Cataracts can be treated with special eyeglasses, anti-glare glasses, and the use of magnifying glasses.
Again, the best treatment is prevention. Ask your eye doctor to check for cataracts and early cataract signs at your next appointment.
Glaucoma is an eye disease that can not only blind you, but can be extremely painful in its later stages.
It affects the intraocular pressure in the eye and occurs when the pressure in the eye increases due to a fluid buildup in the center of the eye. This can be caused by one of two things: either the fluid is not being drained properly or it is not being drained quickly enough.
As the intraocular pressure rises, it can distort the shape of the eye, causing blurred and impaired vision. This can also cause physical eye pain.
This disease is detected by softly blowing air into the eye. Depending on how the eye reacts, your doctor will be able to tell if the pressure in the eye is too high. This test is often omitted from a comprehensive eye exam. If you suspect you have glaucoma, you’ll need to request the test be done.
Glaucoma can be treated with medication to lower the pressure in the eye. In some cases, the eye may even need to be drained.
In all cases, the best way to avoid any of these diseases is to visit your eye doctor. If you or someone you know has diabetes, talk to your doctor about different ways to protect your eyes. Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month is just a way to get people thinking about diabetes related eye disease. But, don’t just forget about it after November – proper eye care is a year-round commitment!