November is diabetes awareness month and November 14th is World Diabetes Day. Millions of Canadians are living with diabetes and prediabetes. It is important to understand the impact of this disease on the eyes and the role the optometrist plays in managing eye health for those affected.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic disease that causes abnormally high levels of sugar in the blood, due to the lack of production of insulin or its lack of efficiency. Insulin is the hormone that turns the glucose from the food we eat into the body’s usable source of energy. If the body does not make insulin or develops a resistance to its action (insulin resistance), it leads to higher than normal blood sugar levels and the sugar is not transferred to the cells.
There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.
Type 1 typically develops in children or adolescents and occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the pancreas, making it unable to produce a sufficient amount of insulin in order to process the ingested glucose to energy, leading to a build-up of sugar in the blood. This is an autoimmune disease, which is treated with insulin injections.
Type 2 is the most common form of the disease and most often develops in adulthood. It occurs when the body cannot properly use or make enough insulin, once again, resulting in sugar build up in the blood. This form of diabetes is generally treated with oral hypoglycemic medications or insulin injections but can, in some cases, be managed through lifestyle changes.
How can diabetes affect your eyes?
Diabetes generally affects the eyes of people who have been suffering from the disease for many years or who have trouble controlling their blood sugar levels. Certain eye conditions that may develop as a result of diabetes include:
- Diabetic retinopathy is a complication that damages the blood vessels of the retina. In fact, diabetic retinopathy can permanently damage vision and is the leading cause of blindness in North America among working age adults.
- Cataracts, which clouds the eye’s lens
- Glaucoma, which causes pressure to the retina
How can these related eye problems be prevented and/or managed?
Through a comprehensive eye exam, optometrists can detect early signs of certain health conditions, like diabetes. They can even refer you to the appropriate health professionals for the particular condition that they identify. If you already have diabetes, your optometrist will pay close attention to your eyes and may recommend that you have pupil dilation in order to examine them thoroughly. Pupil dilation causes blurry vision, so make sure you come accompanied to have your eyes checked!
If left untreated, eye conditions caused by diabetes can seriously and sometimes permanently impact your eye health. Monitoring the progression and maintaining control of the disease is key for people affected by diabetes; therefore it is highly recommended that you see your eye doctor upon diagnosis and that you schedule an eye examination yearly or as recommended by your optometrist. With regular visits, you can greatly reduce the risk of eye diseases related to diabetes.
Your doctors know best! Following their advice and the treatment plan they prescribe will help keep the symptoms under control and reduce a quick progression of the disease.
Do not hesitate to see your IRIS optometrist for more information on diabetes.