As many as one in ten Americans suffer from diabetes – a metabolic condition that occurs when your body can’t control your blood sugar levels properly. As a result, it’s possible to have dangerously high or low blood sugar – something which can make you extremely unwell and that could, over time, cause serious damage to your organs.
Many people don’t realize just how dangerous diabetes is. Even fewer realize that this common condition can affect their eye health and vision.
Your body relies on a substance called insulin to regular your blood sugar levels. Some people with diabetes find that their body doesn’t make enough insulin. Others experience diabetes because their body doesn’t use the insulin that they produce effectively. Without medication, these patients can go on to develop dangerously high blood sugar levels.
Blood vessels are found across the body, including the back of the eye. When your blood sugar levels are persistently high, it can cause damage to the blood vessels that deliver oxygen and nutrients to the retina, which is the area of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye. The retina has the job of receiving light and turning it into signals sent to the brain to tell us what you see. This damage includes leaking and scarring, which can have permanent consequences for your vision. This common complication of diabetes is known as diabetic retinopathy.
Many people who have diabetes start to develop signs of diabetic retinopathy without even realizing it. This is because the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy usually develop slowly.
Initially, people with diabetic retinopathy will find that it simply becomes harder to see things clearly, and distances at which things previously appeared clear are now blurred and harder to focus on. Since diabetic retinopathy is a progressive condition, the symptoms will get worse over time. Patients may also experience dark spots or streaks in their vision that appear like cobwebs, which are caused by blood vessels leaking into a part of the retina called the macula.
As the disease progresses, scar tissue can develop at the very back of the eye. This can put tension onto the retina and cause it to pull away from the optic nerve. Known as retinal detachment, if it’s not spotted and treated promptly it could lead to permanent vision loss.
Diabetic eye exams are special assessments that are used to determine if you are affected by diabetic retinopathy, and if you are, how much it has progressed. They can be performed as part of a routine comprehensive eye exam or carried out separately.
Diabetic eye exams are very straightforward. However, they require your pupils to be dilated. Special eye drops will be administered which will dilate your pupils so that your eye doctor can use a special camera to look through the eye to the blood vessels at the back. Microscopic effects help them to visualize these blood vessels in detail so that they can determine how healthy and normal they look.
In some instances, patients are recommended to have a further test. Known as a fluorescein angiogram, it involves injecting a small amount of dye into your veins so that it travels through the blood vessels. Your eye doctor can assess whether there are any leaks in the blood vessels in your eyes, which indicates diabetic retinopathy.
For more on diabetic eye exams, visit us at I-Care Optical in Tampa, Florida. You can also reach us at (813) 806-0812 to schedule an appointment today.