Diabetes is a systemic disease that can affect various organs and systems. It is a leading cause of eye complications that usually have slow onset, are painless and generally might have no symptoms until it’s too late. This is why I can’t stress enough the importance of seeing an eye doctor at least once a year.
Our eyes work similar to a camera. When we look at an object, the light from it passes through the pupil, and depending on how bright or dim the light is, the iris can change the size of the pupil. This action controls the amount of light getting into the eye, much like the aperture of a camera. The light further passes through the lens located behind the pupil, and to the retina located at the back of the eye. This is where the light signal changes into the nerve signals that are sent to the optical nerve and finally, to the visual center of the brain. Akin to what’s happening at the sensor of a digital camera.
Diabetes eye complications include blurry vision, cataracts, glaucoma, and retinopathy. I will give a brief overview of each.
BLURRY VISION. This can be a temporary problem caused by high blood sugar levels. It generally results from swelling of the lens which in turn affects the ability to see clearly. Getting blood sugar within the target range usually helps, but it can take as long as three months. However, blurry vision could be a symptom of a few other conditions, including near- or farsightedness, astigmatism, presbyopia also known as “old eyes”, chronic dry eyes, hormonal changes during pregnancy, some types of migraine, LASIK surgery, certain eye drops and medications. It can also be a symptom of the more serious eye complications discussed below.
CATARACT is clouding of the eye lens that are located right behind the iris. The lens enables both seeing and focusing on the image, much like in a camera. If a lens is cloudy, the image will appear blurred. The cataract is diagnosed by a comprehensive dilated eye exam which is why it is important to see an eye doctor at least once a year.
Symptoms of a cataract include blurry vision, changes in the way you see colors, problem with glare during the day or with night driving (glare from oncoming headlights), double vision, and progressive nearsightedness or “second sight” when you no longer need reading glasses. Cataract(s) are usually diagnosed during an eye exam.
GLAUCOMA results when fluid inside the eye doesn’t drain properly, hence the pressure builds up. This can damage the nerves and blood vessels in the eye, causing changes in vision, particularly loss of peripheral vision.
Glaucoma is diagnosed by dilated eye exam. There are two types of glaucoma: open-angle and angle-closure. The former is the most common and has no symptoms in the early stages. This type of glaucoma can be treated with medications. The other, less common type can be treated with the special eye drops, medications, or surgery and laser treatments.
PWD are also more likely to have another uncommon type, the neovascular glaucoma. What happens is that the new blood vessels grow on the iris and block the normal flow of fluid out of the eye, and the pressure inside the eye increases. This type unfortunately is difficult to treat. A laser surgery is available to cut back on the vessels, and use of implants is in the works.
RETINOPATHY. This medical term generally means a disorder of the retina. The retina is a light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye, where light is turned into the images that are sent to the visual center of the brain by the optic nerve.
It happens when small blood vessels in the retina become damaged by an elevated blood sugar or some other causes, described below. The damaged blood vessels leak blood and other fluids, causing damage and swelling in the retinal tissue. In the early stages, there is no pain or other symptoms. However, retinopathy needs diagnosed and treated, otherwise it can cause blindness.
Symptoms of retinopathy include blurry vision, seeing spots or floaters, difficulty seeing well at night, and having a dark or empty spot in the center of vision.
OTHER CAUSES. However, diabetes isn’t the only culprit. There is a host of other causes of eye complications, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hormonal changes during pregnancy, eye injury, and taking certain medications such as steroids or diuretics (water pills), and this is only a partial list. Cataracts can be congenital (some babies are born with it) or present in premature or low birth weight babies. Besides, retinopathy can be transmitted by a cat bite also known as Cat scratch disease.
Exposure to UV light or ionizing radiation can put one at risk for cataracts, as well as certain blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia. Genetic disorders play a role, and certain types of retinopathy happen for no cause (idiopathic).
This will wrap it up for today. Don’t forget visiting your eye doctor for your annual constitutional visit.