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Diabetes – Complications with Sugar

Diabetes and eye health are tied together more closely than you may realize! Let us shed some light on this relationship so you know how it can affect you and those close to you. Diabetes is becoming more and more prevalent in the area, as (9%) of Tennesseans are reported to have diabetes. In some areas of the country, that number exceeds (12%). It is an epidemic that is a truly a growing concern in America and other countries.

We can debate the causes (poor diet, lack of exercise, increased high fructose corn syrup, etc.). The reality remains that we must diagnose, treat, and protect patients from diabetic problems. How does this relate to vision health? The answer lies in a disorder known as diabetic eye disease.

There is both good and bad news when it comes to diabetic eye disease. The good news is most diabetic eye problems do not cause pain. None of us like pain. However, when you have a disorder that is asymptomatic (showing zero to few symptoms) it is especially dangerous. It is dangerous because patients do not report any specific problems or symptoms, even blurred vision in many cases. This leads to a number of patients with diabetic eye disease receiving treatment after the disorder has developed. That’s the bad news.

Let’s talk facts.

Diabetes is the number one cause of new cases of blindness among the working population in the United States, and this has been true for many years. The number one cause for loss of vision and diabetes is due to a fluid buildup in the central part of the retina called the macula. This fluid buildup disrupts vision in mild to moderate levels but is often not as perceived by the patients. For that reason, we use high-quality equipment, doctor knowledge, and advanced technology to evaluate the patient’s retina and macula.

(80%) of vision loss and diabetes is caused by this fluid buildup. The best way to imagine this is noting how you see when you are under water in a swimming pool. It is not as clear as when you are above the water level. Ultimately, that type of blurry, foggy, watery vision is what we’re trying to prevent by diagnosing diabetic eye macular edema (fluid). In some cases, the fluid buildup creates a signal to the brain that it needs to send more blood vessels and oxygen to the retina. While this seems like a good idea, ultimately these new blood vessels are very brittle and breakable. They also have an elasticity to them, so they stick to other parts of the inner eye. These new blood vessels (called neovascularization) can lead to severe loss of vision due to large hemorrhages or retinal detachment. Each of these can be devastating complications that, if left untreated, can lead to blindness. Even when treated, many people do not return to their normal pre-event vision level and therefore suffer from vision decreases.

In general, diabetes can affect many areas of the eye from the cornea (dry eyes) and lens (cataracts) to the optic nerves (glaucoma). Despite these other affected areas, diabetes is especially known for its vascular complications due to leakage and new blood vessel formations at the macula or on the retina.

The best way to prevent diabetic complications are:

  1. Make sure you are seeing your general physicianand understand any risk factors you might have for developing diabetes.
  2. Discuss with your physician the right diet – typically low sugar or carbohydrate to minimize the development of diabetes over time.
  3. Have your eyes checked annually – even if youdon’t have any symptoms of changes in vision.

Our mission is to protect, correct, and enhance eye health and vision. Diabetes poses a significant threat to our patients and those in the United States due to complications on the retina. Your annual eye health and vision exam is a high value, low hassle way to provide you with peace of mind and protect your vision for life.