November is National Diabetes Month
Did you know that this disease can be detected through a routine, comprehensive eye exam? The American Optometric Association says that diabetes is the leading cause of vision loss for Americans under the age of 74. If left untreated, it may lead to blindness, so it is important to keep diabetes under control through dietary choices, exercise, not smoking, and if needed, medicine.
What is diabetes?
The Diabetes Research Institute describes this condition as, “A group of diseases where there is too much sugar (glucose) in the blood. Sugar comes from the foods we eat, like bread, cereals, pasta, rice, fruit, starchy vegetables and dairy items. Sugar is used by the body for energy. Insulin is a hormone that is made in the pancreas and works like a key to a door – insulin opens the door of the cells of our body allowing the sugar to go from the bloodstream into the cells where it is then used for energy. If there is not enough insulin or if the insulin can’t open the door to the cell, the sugar levels rise in the blood and diabetes occurs.”
The most common type of the disease is type 2 diabetes (a chronic condition that affects the way the body processes glucose), type 1 diabetes (also a chronic condition where the pancreas produces little or no insulin), prediabetes (where blood sugar is high, but not high enough to trigger type 2 diabetes), and gestational diabetes (which affects pregnant women).
The primary effects of diabetes are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a lack of blood glucose control.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
Typically, people with diabetes will feel thirsty, hungry, tired, have to urinate frequently, and have blurry vision.
How does diabetes affect the eyes?
Because diabetes increases blood sugars in blood vessels, causing them to swell and leak, it can affect the blood vessels in the eyes as well. This can lead to several eye conditions, most noticeably in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.
A major complication of the disease is diabetic retinopathy, which is a condition causing progressive damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina.
According to the American Diabetes Association, having diabetes may increase your chances of having additional eye-related complications as well: a 60 percent increased risk for cataracts, a 40 percent increased risk for glaucoma.
How can comprehensive eye exams help?
During the comprehensive eye exam, eyes are dilated with eye drops, allowing a clear view of the blood vessels at the back of the eye. By having yearly exams, an eye-care professional can detect retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma early and start treatment programs.