November is Diabetes Awareness Month
Diabetes mellitus, commonly known as diabetes, is a metabolic disease which results in high blood sugar.
If you, or someone close to you has diabetes, you will know that diabetes is one of the biggest causes of vision loss.
As diabetes affects both young and old, Davida van der Merwe Optometrist answers some of your questions pertaining to the disease and how it affects your sight.
How does diabetes affect my eyes?
Diabetes causes problems with blood flow and blood vessels inside the eye. The blood vessels can weaken, leak or bleed, affecting the retina at the back of the eye. Damage to the retina is called retinopathy.
Does it happen to everyone with diabetes?
Leaking can happen irrespective of the fact that your diabetes is well controlled, or whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. But, when the diabetes is not well controlled, you’re more likely to have leaks and bleeding.
What happens is that new blood vessels start to grow, trying to compensate for oxygen shortages caused by damage in the original blood vessels.
New blood vessels are called neovascularisation. These break and bleed even more easily so seeing them is a bad sign.
How can you see diabetic retinopathy?
We routinely examine the retina of every patient. But if we know you are diabetic, we will focus on specific areas which are more at risk.
Fluid leaking into the macula can dramatically affect vision, because the macula is our area of clearest, central vision. We may photograph or scan your retina, so we can keep accurate records and compare tiny leaks over a few weeks or months.
Improving diabetes control – reducing your blood sugar – can improve the retinopathy. We will show you your photographs and scans and explain what we’re seeing.
The same type of leaking that results in retinopathy can happen in your kidneys as well, so it’s helpful if you allow us to share your results with your medical doctor.
How will diabetes change my vision?
Diabetes can cause changes in vision from damage to the blood vessels, or changes to the lens of the eye.
As the lens swells and shrinks back, your glasses prescription can change with it. If your diabetes is newly diagnosed, or if your medication has changed, your vision and your prescription is likely to fluctuate.
We may delay making your final glasses, until we can confirm that your levels have stabilised.
What else should you be aware of?
The lens in the eye, which eventually changes to become a cataract, may do so more quickly if you have diabetes.
We’ll check this progress at each visit and let you know when it’s time to refer you to the surgeon to discuss cataract surgery.
We will also discuss the frequency of your follow-up visits, depending on our findings during the examination.
Patients with well-controlled diabetes, should have a routine examination every year. If we want to follow your progress more closely, we may ask you to come in sooner.
Leaking at the macula can happen at any stage of diabetes, in Type 1 and Type 2. So, patients should come in between scheduled visits if they feel their vision may be changing.
With World Diabetes Day falling on November, if you, or someone close to you is diabetic, ensure you or they have a diabetic eye examination.
We are here to answer your questions on diabetes and how it affects your eyes.