Diabetes and Eye Health
by Dr. Kelly Krespan
Diabetes affects the blood vessels in your body. When it comes to your eyes, diabetes affects the small blood vessels in the retina. We call this diabetic retinopathy. The retina is the photoreceptor layer on the inside of the eye, and a healthy retina is important for good vision.
There are various stages of diabetic retinopathy. Initially, there are small changes in the shape of the blood vessels. Then, there may be small spots of bleeding in the retina. You may not have any symptoms at these early stages. The blood vessels can become leaky, causing swelling in the central retina (macular edema), and this can cause blurry vision.
As retinopathy progresses, abnormal blood vessels can grow inside the eye. The blood vessels do not function as normal retinal vessels and can have significant consequences for the health of your eye. They can cause:
- Bleeding inside the eye (vitreous hemorrhage)
- Tractional retinal detachment
- Neovascular glaucoma
Cataract formation and glaucoma also occur at higher rates in those with diabetes.
Some patients with diabetic retinopathy are monitored closely, while others benefit from laser treatments, injections, or eye surgery.
It is recommended that patients with diabetes have an eye exam at least once per year. Patients with diabetes who become pregnant should have an exam.
If you have diabetes, the best way you can reduce your risk of developing retinopathy is good blood sugar control. If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, it is also important that you keep those controlled. The higher your blood sugar, and the longer you have had diabetes, the greater your risk of developing retinopathy. Sometimes retinopathy can be delayed after you have had a period of uncontrolled blood sugar, even if it is now controlled, so remaining vigilant with regular exams is important.