As we get older, our risk of developing certain eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration increases. To catch these conditions early enough, it’s highly recommended that you see your optometrist for regular eye examinations. If you’re someone who happens to have an underlying medical condition, such as type I or type II diabetes, then eye exams are all the more crucial for you due to the changes that can occur in your eyes as a direct result of being diabetic.
One example of a diabetes-related complication is something known as diabetic retinopathy – also known as diabetic eye disease; a condition in which damage occurs to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue in the retina, which is the part of your eye that is responsible for taking pictures and sending those images to your brain. In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels will weaken in what’s known as non-proliferative retinopathy. During this stage, you may not even notice any symptoms. However, over time, diabetic retinopathy will eventually lead to poor vision, which can include the following symptoms:
• Blurred vision
• Impaired colour vision
• Areas of vision that appear dark or empty
It is important to note that in some cases, the aforementioned vision problems may fluctuate. You can also develop vision loss. In fact, diabetic retinopathy is considered to be among the leading causes of blindness.
If your diabetes is left untreated or not well-managed and your blood sugar levels remain high, then diabetic retinopathy is a condition that will only get worse, resulting in the growth of new, weakened blood vessels on the retina. These blood vessels can break easily and will ultimately result in the leakage of blood into the middle of your eye and in front of the retina. As a result of this bleeding, you can also develop scar tissue which can cause a retinal detachment – a condition that is considered a medical emergency, requiring surgery. Having diabetic retinopathy can also cause something known as macular edema, in which the macula of the eye begins to swell, also resulting in extremely poor vision.
Along with having diabetes, there are other risk factors that can also contribute to the development of diabetic retinopathy, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tobacco use, pregnancy, as well as if you are African-American, Native-American, or Hispanic.
Remember, diabetic retinopathy often comes with no symptoms – at least not initially, therefore, as mentioned, you should see your optometrist regularly. There are also certain precautions you can take in effort to prevent yourself from getting diabetic retinopathy – such as managing your diabetes through regular monitoring of your blood sugar, taking diabetic medication prescribed to you as directed, in addition to increasing your physical activity level and ensuring you’re eating healthy (which can also help keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control.)
For more information on diabetes, visit Diabetes Canada website at www.diabetes.ca.