Every diabetic should know this about their eyes…
In this particular episode of Ask an Eye Doc, you will learn:
- How excessive blood sugar affects your red blood cells and small blood vessels
- Why people with diabetes should have an annual dilated eye exam
- How diabetes affects the retina
- How diabetes is related to glaucoma
- How diabetes is related to cataracts
This episode will make more sense if you’ve already listened to:
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For you readers out there, here’s the answer in written form:
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus (type 1 or type 2), you probably already know that you need to have an annual dilated eye exam. Here’s why:
Diabetes is ultimately a small blood vessel disease. When you’re diabetic, you tend to have high amounts of sugar in your blood. When this happens, excess sugar permanently attaches itself to your red blood cells.
When the individual red blood cells pass through the smallest blood vessels in your body (called capillaries), they line up single file and create friction on the inner lining of the capillaries. The more sugar attached to your red blood cells, the more friction on your capillaries. Over time, the inner lining of your capillaries break down and start to leak.
Anywhere in the body that has small blood vessels, including your nerves, kidneys, and eyes, is a potential site for diabetic disease.
Diabetic eye disease
Diabetic eye disease starts with leakage of the blood vessels found in the retina. These blood vessels are important to vision because they allow the retina to trade waste products for nutrients, including oxygen. If your retina does not receive the proper blood supply, it will die, leading to blindness.
Small retinal blood vessel leaks can cause fluid to collect within and damage the retina. Larger leakage can cause bleeding. This is called diabetic retinopathy “retino-” meaning retina, and “-pathy” meaning disease.
Anywhere the leakage occurs leads to a small area of permanently damaged retina. Think about using a pin to poke a single hole in a piece of paper. Big deal, right? The rest of the paper is still in tact. Now poke one-hundred holes, or one-thousand holes and pretty soon the paper is in shreds. Everywhere a tiny bleed occurs, the retina is compromised, just like the paper. Do that repeatedly over time, and you essentially end up with irreversible blindness.
In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, you may not have any symptoms at all. This is why you should have an annual dilated diabetic eye exam.
In severe cases of diabetic eye disease, the retina becomes so starved for oxygen that new blood vessels begin to grow in an attempt to get more blood flow to the eye. While this might seem like a good idea, it’s actually very detrimental to your vision. New blood vessels growth in the retina causes disruption and damage. In extreme cases the blood vessels will begin to grow on the color part of your eye, causing a severe form of glaucoma and leading to complete blindness.
Now you know!
So now you know a little more about how diabetes affects your eyes! If you know a friend or family member with diabetes, be sure to share this episode with him or her.