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How Does Diabetes Effect Your Eyes?

Diabetes can cause several negative effects to our eye health, one of the most concerning of which is the onset of diabetic retinopathy. By examining the retina, eye doctors can get a glimpse into the vascular health of diabetic patients by assessment of the small and delicate blood vessels. When there is a weakening or swelling of the tiny blood vessels inside the eye, resulting in blood leakage, the growth of new blood vessels or other changes it is referred to as Diabetic Retinopathy. If diabetic retinopathy is left untreated, loss of vision or even blindness can be a result. Changes in the eyes due to diabetes can be detected during an eye exam and are often the first indication that a person may have the disease. Eye exams are also a crucial part of overall care for patients who have been already diagnosed with Type 1 or Type II diabetes.

What are symptoms of Diabetic Eye Disease?

In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy often has no symptoms so regular eye exams are the best way to detect its presence. Diabetes and its complications can affect many parts of the eye. Diabetes can cause changes in nearsightedness, farsightedness and premature presbyopia — the inability to focus on close objects. It can result in early cataracts, glaucoma, paralysis of the nerves that control the eye muscles or pupil, and decreased corneal sensitivity. Visual symptoms of diabetes include fluctuating or blurring of vision, occasional double vision, loss of visual field, or overall reduction in visual acuity.

How can Diabetic Retinopathy be prevented?

Consistent well controlled blood sugar reduces the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, so it is important to monitor and maintain control of your diabetes by working with your family physician or endocrinologist. Annual eye exams with your Optometrist can help identify retinopathy as early as possible which is important in minimizing preventable damage to the eye. Also see your physician or endocrinologist regularly and follow instructions about diet, exercise and medication. In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy is monitored through eye health examinations. If necessary, it may be treated with injections of anti-VEGF therapy into the eye, or laser therapy. In other cases, retinal surgery may be necessary. Early detection of diabetic retinopathy is crucial, as treatment is much more likely to be successful at an early stage. People with diabetes should have at the very least annual eye exams, unless it has been recommended to have more frequent evaluations.

Diabetic Retinopathy imaged using Optomap California Widefield, Dr. Shiv Sharma
Diabetic Retinopathy

Dr. Shiv Sharma

Dr. Shiv Sharma is an Optometrist who specializes in family eye care, dry eye, and pediatric eye care. He obtained his Bachelor's degree in M.B.B. From Simon Fraser University in 2009 and his Doctorate of Optometry degree from the Southern College of Optometry in 2013. He is a strong advocate for innovation in optometry practice and consults for several ophthalmic industry companies.