You have almost certainly heard of diabetes, which is one of the most common chronic health conditions in the United States with an estimated 100 million adults currently living with diabetes or pre-diabetes. This metabolic disorder occurs when the body is no longer able to regulate its own blood sugar levels and requires intervention to keep them stable. Most people are aware that diabetes can have serious consequences for our health. However, you may be surprised to learn that it can also influence our vision. This is because patients who are diabetic can go on to develop a complication that is known as diabetic retinopathy. Without prompt treatment, diabetic retinopathy can cause permanent vision loss. It is for this reason that patients who suffer from diabetes are asked to attend regular diabetic-related eye exams.
What is diabetic retinopathy?
For us to be able to see clearly, our eyes need to be healthy and functioning perfectly. The most important component of our eyes are the retina. Found at the very back of the eye, the retina is a patch of light-sensitive cells that have the job of converting the light that passes into the eye into messages that are passed up the optic nerve and into our brain. Our brain then receives them and tells us what we can see and how clearly we can see it.
The retina relies on a continuous supply of blood, which is delivered using a network of tiny blood vessels. Over time, having continuously high blood vessels can damage these blood vessels causing a leak of blood and other fluids onto the retina. If this happens, scarring may occur which could compromise the quality of your vision.
Am I at risk of diabetic retinopathy?
Technically, anyone who suffers from diabetes, whether it be Type 1 or Type 2, could be at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. However, the condition is more likely in certain situations. These include if:
your blood sugar levels are uncontrolled or poorly controlled
you have a long history of diabetes
you have high blood pressure (hypertension)
you suffer from high cholesterol
you are pregnant
Regular diabetic-related eye exams will enable your eye doctor to monitor your condition and ensure that any signs of diabetic retinopathy are detected and acted upon immediately.
What to expect from diabetic-related eye exams?
The process of a diabetic eye exam is very simple and straightforward. In fact, in most instances, it is included within the other elements of comprehensive eye exam and you may not even realize that you have had a specific test to check for diabetes-related complications.
Diabetic eye screening is non-invasive. You will be given eyedrops which will blur your vision. These may sting a little when they are administered, but this will pass within just a few moments. Once your vision is blurred, you will be asked to rest your head onto a device and stare down a lens. This leads to a camera which will take images of the backs of your eyes so that your eye doctor can assess the structures, which include the retina, for any abnormalities. You will see a flash when each image is taken, but at no point should you be in any pain.
In addition to the images of the back of your eye being taken, you will also be given a visual acuity test. This is where you will be asked to read letters off a chart a short distance away, as well as reading from a card held in front of you.
The information that your eye doctor will obtain from your examination will be able to tell them if you are experiencing any of the signs of diabetic retinopathy. If so, they will discuss the best way to get your condition under control. This could involve a combination of elements, including controlling your diabetes more effectively, taking medications or more invasive treatment to preserve your vision. Your eye doctor will give you more specific information based on your individual circumstances.
If you have further questions about diabetic-related eye exams, please contact our knowledgeable eye care team.