November 14th is World Diabetes Day, a day dedicated to global recognition of diabetes and how it affects everyone. It is a safe bet that virtually everyone in Canada has heard of, and likely knows someone who is living with diabetes. Currently, there are nearly 11 million people living with either diabetes or prediabetes, a disease that causes the body to either fail to produce insulin, or makes it incapable of using it. Since insulin helps the body control blood sugar, people with diabetes suffer from high blood sugar levels. You may be aware that high blood sugar can damage your body’s organs, but were you aware that your eyes were included in the potential damage?
What Can Diabetes Do to my Vision?
High blood sugar levels caused by diabetes can affect the blood vessels of your eyes, leading to a number of vision problems. Some vision problems that can be triggered by diabetes include blurred vision, glaucoma and cataracts. Others that are specific to diabetes are Diabetic Retinopathy and Diabetic Macular Edema (DME).
What is the Connection Between Diabetes and Cataracts and Glaucoma?
There is a belief among researchers that the high glucose levels caused by diabetes trigger cataracts by creating cloudy deposits to build on the lens of the eye. What they know for sure is that people with diabetes are 2-5 times more likely to have cataracts and that they often develop at a younger age than someone who does not have diabetes. Glaucoma, a group of diseases affecting the optic nerve, is twice as prevalent in those with diabetes. Without early treatment glaucoma can lead to vision loss and blindness.
What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
The retina of your eye is the lining at the back of your eye which turns the light entering your eye into messages that are sent to your brain. Your brain takes these messages and transforms them into pictures of the world around you. Diabetic retinopathy is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the blood vessels of the retina. The blood vessels bulge, swell, distort and leak. Eventually, the blood vessels will close off, causing new blood vessels to grow to replace them. These new blood vessels are usually weaker and may bleed into your eye. Left untreated, it can cause a dangerous amount of pressure in your eye and lead to vision loss.
What is Diabetic Macular Edema?
The macula is the part of your retina used to recognize faces, to read, or for driving. Diabetic macular edema causes a buildup of fluid, leading to the swelling of the macula. This leads to loss of sharp vision, partial vision loss and potentially even blindness. Fifty percent of people with diabetic retinopathy will develop DME.
How Can I Avoid Diabetes Related Eye Disease?
The best way to avoid diabetic eye disease is to avoid getting diabetes. Eat healthy food, exercise regularly, don’t smoke, generally take good care of your body, so it will take care of you. But, what if, in spite of everything you did to avoid it, you get diabetes anyway? In that case, the best thing you can do is to make sure your optometrist is aware of your health condition, visit regularly, and follow your optometrist’s advice. Never take chances with your vision.