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Diabetes and the Eyes

There are two main types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 Diabetes (formerly Juvenile Diabetes) is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone which regulates the absorption of glucose into the cells of your body. Without insulin, the body is unable to absorb and use glucose, the body’s main source of energy.  Type 1 is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and only 5-10% of diabetics have this form of the disease. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments Type 1 Diabetics can learn to manage their condition and live long, healthy, happy lives.

Type 2 Diabetes (formerly Adult-Onset), is the most common form of diabetes. Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with this form of the disease, and many more are unaware they are at risk. African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and the geriatric population have a higher risk of developing type 2. In Type 2 diabetes the cells of the body become resistant to the effects of insulin and the pancreas cannot produce enough of the hormone to compensate. Poorly controlled blood sugar levels can lead to complications throughout the body, including the kidneys (nephropathy), the nervous system (neuropathy), and the eyes (retinopathy).

How can Diabetes affect the eyes?

Diabetes can cause many effects on the eye from the cornea surface to the optic nerve. Patients with diabetes can experience more dry eye, and are more likely to develop early onset cataracts. They can also get diabetic retinopathy or optic neuropathy. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when tiny blood vessels leak blood and fluid into the retina – the light receptive nerve tissue lining the back of the eye. This leakage leads to swelling of retinal tissue and clouding of vision. The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely they will develop diabetic retinopathy. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness. Optic neuropathy or damage or swelling to the optic nerve (the cable that sends information from the eye to the brain) can also cause permanent damage and vision loss.

All of the ocular effects from diabetes can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination. The testing should include evaluation of the retina through a dilated pupil and possibly retinal photography or scanning to document the current status of the retina and optic nerve.

All of the physicians at Horizon Eye Specialists are trained to provide comprehensive dilated retinal examinations for our patients with diabetes. Our clinic also has special equipment to monitor diabetic retinopathy such as Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) and fundus photography.

What can you do?

If you have diabetes, you can help prevent or slow the development of diabetic retinopathy by closely monitoring and controlling your blood sugar, taking your prescribed medication, sticking to your diet, exercising regularly, controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding smoking. All patients with Diabetes should also have an annual comprehensive eye exam to check for the effects of this disease on the eye.

If you have any questions or would like a consultation with one of our doctors, please contact us