In Canada, diabetic eye disease is the main cause of blindness in working-age adults. Fortunately, the risk of diabetic complications can be minimized through appropriate disease control. Diabetes prevents our bodies from producing or using insulin, a substance that allows our cells to absorb sugar. Since the sugar cannot get into our cells, it remains in our blood, which is why diabetic people have high blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes often appears in childhood or adolescence. Type 2 diabetes often occurs after the age of 40, but today, due to increasing obesity, younger people are increasingly affected.
Diabetic eye diseases include visual changes, cataracts, glaucoma, nerve or muscle damage, and diabetic retinopathy. Retinopathy is caused by damage to the blood vessels in the retina, the "photographic film" inside our eyes that captures the images we see. This damage can lead to bleeding or fluid build-up in the retina. Fragile new blood vessels may then form, which bleed more easily.
In certain cases, ophthalmologists can treat diabetic retinopathy with laser treatments, injections, or surgery. However, any damage already caused is often irreversible. It is therefore essential that people suffering from diabetes prevent diabetic retinopathy by tightly controlling their blood sugar through diet, exercise or medications, as indicated by their physician. It is also essential that they get screened for early retinopathy at least once a year, with a detailed eye examination. This exam may be carried out by an optometrist, who will refer the patient to an ophthalmologist for further assessment or specialized treatment as required. The frequency of visits may vary depending on the eye care professional's recommendations. Early screening and treatment of diabetic retinopathy may minimize the risk of severe vision loss.
Jahel St-Jacques, O.D., Optometrist