Diabetes can have many effects on the eye. Diabetic retinopathy is damage to the retina (the ‘seeing’ part at the back of the eye much like a camera sensor) and is a complication that can affect people with diabetes. Diabetic Retinopathy is one of the most common causes of blindness.
Many cases of diabetic retinopathy could be prevented or miminized with regular eye exams and treatment.
What causes retinopathy?
To see, light must be able to pass from the front of the eye through to focus on the retina by the lens. The retina is the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye – the ‘seeing’ part of the eye. It converts the light into electrical signals. These signals are then sent to your brain via the optic nerve and your brain interprets this to produce the images that you see.
A delicate blood vessel network supplies the retina with blood. When those blood vessels become blocked, leaky or grow new vessels randomly, the retina becomes damaged and is unable to work properly. Retinopathy is the damage to the retina.
Diabetic Risks to your eyes
Diabetic Risk increases with persistent high levels of glucose can lead to damage in your eyes. To reduce the risk of eye problems, blood glucose, blood pressure and blood fats need to be kept within the normal range, which should be agreed by you and your healthcare team. The aim of your diabetic treatment, with a healthy lifestyle, is to achieve these targets & preserve your vision.
Smoking also plays a part in eye damage so, if you do smoke, stopping will be extremely helpful. This can lead to Macular Degeneration.
Everyone with diabetes should have the retina of their eyes dilated & retina examined each year to check for retinopathy. If you are being treated for Diabetes, your Alberta Health coverage will pay for a Dilated Retina Exam yearly at our clinics.
High Blood Glucose
High blood glucose levels are the main cause of retinopathy, but high blood fats and high blood pressure also play a part. So, to help prevent any eye problems developing or existing problems from getting worse it is important to:
- Try to keep blood glucose, blood fats and blood pressure within normal ranges. This is agreed between you and your healthcare team
- Tell your doctor if you notice any changes to your vision immediately (don’t wait until your next screening appointment).
- Take your medication as prescribed
- If you’re overweight, try to lose excess weight
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- If you smoke, it’s important to try to stop
- Attend your annual eye screening appointment. As retinopathy frequently has no symptoms until it is well advanced, you may not be aware of changes to the retina until your vision has been impaired. Annual retinal screening will detect retinopathy early and therefore increase the chances of minimal and more effective treatment.
Diabetic Eye Symptoms
There are a number of Diabetic Symptoms to watch for. Some include;
- Fluctuation in vision clarity
- Blurry and/or distortions in vision
- Eye pain
- Slow healing after eye injuries
Prevention for Diabetic Retinopathy
People with diabetes can do many things beside controlling their sugars to minimize problems with Diabetic Retinopathy. First and foremost is a annual Diabetic Eye test in which your pupils are dilated to allow the maximum view of the back of the eye where the retina is located. Besides leaky blood vessels we look for other signs of damage like swelling, deposits in the retina and neovascularization.
With advancements in technology, our office now provide the option of a test using optical coherence tomography (OCT) also can be performed to analyze retinal eye tissue for leakage beyond what is visible to the eye. Small leaks beneath the surface of the retina can be hidden from view. The OCT allows us to see this and refer you to surgery by a retinal specialist before the small problem becomes a big problem. This OCT scan is not covered by Alberta Health, but we only charge a nominal fee for this scan as we care for your eyes. Currently we have two OCT’s, they are located at our downtown and Sherwood Park locations. You can learn more about OCT on our advanced diagnostics page.
We look forward to caring for your eyes and hope you choose us for your life long vision care. If it’s time for your yearly exam, we hope you choose one of our three eye clinics in Edmonton & Sherwood Park.