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Diabetes and Your Eyes

Diabetes is becoming much more prevalent around the globe. According to the International Diabetes Federation, approximately 425 million adults were living with diabetes in the year 2017 and 352 million more people were at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. By 2045 the number of people diagnosed is expected to rise to 629 million. 

Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness as well as heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure, neuropathy (nerve damage) and lower limb amputation. In fact, in 2017, diabetes was implicated in 4 million deaths worldwide. Nevertheless preventing these complications from diabetes is possible with proper treatment, medication and regular medical screenings as well as improving your diet, physical activity and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the hormone insulin is either underproduced or ineffective in its ability to regulate blood sugar. Uncontrolled diabetes leads to hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, which damages many systems in the body such as the blood vessels and the nervous system.  

How Does Diabetes Affect The Eyes?

Diabetic eye disease is a group of conditions which are caused, or worsened, by diabetes; including: diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, glaucoma and cataracts. Diabetes increases the risk of cataracts by four times, and can increase dryness and reduce cornea sensation.

In diabetic retinopathy, over time, the tiny blood vessels within the eyes become damaged, causing leakage, poor oxygen circulation, then scarring of the sensitive tissue within the retina, which can result in further cell damage and scarring. 

The longer you have diabetes, and the longer your blood sugar levels remain uncontrolled, the higher the chances of developing diabetic eye disease. Unlike many other vision-threatening conditions which are more prevalent in older individuals, diabetic eye disease is one of the main causes of vision loss in the younger, working-age population. Unfortunately, these eye conditions can lead to blindness if not caught early and treated. In fact, 2.6% of blindness worldwide is due to diabetes. 

Diabetic Retinopathy

As mentioned above, diabetes can result in cumulative damage to the blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue located at the back of the eye. This is called diabetic retinopathy. 

The retina is responsible for converting the light it receives into visual signals to the optic nerve in the brain. High blood sugar levels can cause the blood vessels in the retina to leak or hemorrhage, causing bleeding and distorting vision. In advanced stages, new blood vessels may begin to grow on the retinal surface causing scarring and further damaging cells in the retina. Diabetic retinopathy can eventually lead to blindness. 

Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

The early stages of diabetic retinopathy often have no symptoms, which is why it’s vitally important to have frequent diabetic eye exams. As it progresses you may start to notice the following symptoms:

  • Blurred or fluctuating vision or vision loss
  • Floaters (dark spots or strings that appear to float in your visual field)
  • Blind spots
  • Color vision loss

There is no pain associated with diabetic retinopathy to signal any issues. If not controlled, as retinopathy continues it can cause retinal detachment and macular edema, two other serious conditions that threaten vision. Again, there are often NO signs or symptoms until more advanced stages. 

A person with diabetes can do their part to control their blood sugar level. Following the physician’s medication plan, as well as diet and exercise recommendations can help slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy. 

Retinal Detachment

Scar tissues caused by the breaking and forming of blood vessels in advanced retinopathy can lead to a retinal detachment in which the retina pulls away from the underlying tissue. This condition is a medical emergency and must be treated immediately as it can lead to permanent vision loss. Signs of a retinal detachment include a sudden onset of floaters or flashes in the vision. 

Diabetic Macular Edema (DME)

Diabetic macular edema occurs when the macula, a part of the retina responsible for clear central vision, becomes full of fluid (edema). It is a complication of diabetic retinopathy that occurs in about half of patients, and causes vision loss. 

Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy and Diabetic Macular Edema

While vision loss from diabetic retinopathy and DME often can’t be restored, with early detection there are some preventative treatments available. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (when the blood vessels begin to grow abnormally) can be treated by laser surgery, injections or a procedure called vitrectomy in which the vitreous gel in the center of the eye is removed and replaced. This will treat bleeding caused by ruptured blood vessels. DME can be treated with injection therapy, laser surgery or corticosteroids. 

Prevent Vision Loss from Diabetes

The best way to prevent vision loss from diabetic eye disease is early detection and treatment. Since there may be no symptoms in the early stages, regular diabetic eye exams are critical for early diagnosis. In fact diabetics are now sometimes monitored by their health insurance to see if they are getting regular eye exams and premium rates can be affected by how regularly the patients get their eyes checked. Keeping diabetes under control through exercise, diet, medication and regular screenings will help to reduce the chances of vision loss and blindness from diabetes. 

 

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Dear Northwood Vision patient,

Here is what we are asking you to do to make a smaller exposure footprint:

  1. If you have any symptoms of loss of taste or smell, upset stomach/diarrhea coughing, fever, difficulty breathing, running nose please reschedule your appointment in 30 days or more.
  2. Wash your hands or use sanitizer immediately upon entering.
  3. Try not to touch any surfaces in the office you do not have to touch (you can push our door open with your foot! Try not to touch your face!)
  4. If you are trying on glasses, we will collect them from you for proper cleaning.
  5. Contact lenses can be shipped to you at no cost with an active rx (minimum 2 boxes)
  6. We will ask that if possible you come alone to the appointment. Guests can wait outside or in the car unless they need to be with you..
  7. If you have been exposed please wear a mask or reschedule in case you are an asymptomatic carrier, masks are encouraged to be worn by each patient if you have one.
  8. We will extend Contact lens prescriptions up to 6 months if recently expired and can direct ship an order to you if you see clearly and your eyes are feeling healthy.
  9. For a fee, we can ship your glasses to you if desired and you can have them adjusted after the shelter in place order is lifted.

Thank you for your patience and understanding during this stressful and trying time. May God bless each of you and keep you well.

Dr. Christopher K. Keats, OD

What is an Eye Emergency? Read more

Routine Care: “I see pretty well in my glasses or contact lenses. I just want to update my frame and / or get some new lenses to optimize my vision. I don’t have any pain or headaches and my eyes feel good and look normal in the mirror to me. I have never been told I have a disease in my eye that needs to be managed. I should definitely wait to come in until the “Shelter at Home” mandate is over. If I am a contact lens wearer, I understand Dr. Keats will allow me to get 3-6 months of contact lenses mailed to me even if my contact lenses are recently expired or close to expiring.”

Emergent Care: “I see poorly and am having difficulty functioning to drive, read, or see my computer. It is affecting my work. Waiting to be seen in 2 months would be very difficult for me to conduct my life.” Another form of emergent care… “I have other symptoms like headaches, red eyes, discharge, or I might have a disease that threatens my sight like diabetes, macular degeneration, glaucoma, a recent onset of flashes and floaters in my vision and so on.” A final type of emergent care would be a patient who realizes, “I am a patient who has a previously scheduled appointment for a medical condition Dr. Keats is managing to protect my sight, so I should plan on coming in for my visit. However, if my overall health is poor and the benefit to risk ratio says I should push this appointment off until the “Shelter at Home” mandate is lifted, it may be wise for me to reschedule for a later date.” In summary, emergent care means it is important that you be seen quickly for the protection of your visual health and current discomfort, or medical health, so you can function to do your work efficiently now and in the future.