Sight is commonly considered the most important of our senses. It is fundamental to many of our daily activities and independence. With World Sight Day just around the corner (13 October 2016), it is a timely reminder, particularly for those living with diabetes to review how we are caring for our vision.
Although people without diabetes experience many of the same eye conditions, those with diabetes are at greater risk of developing these conditions and at a much younger age. For many of the common eye problems we see in diabetes, the earlier they are detected and treated, the better the outcome. This highlights the importance of regular screening for your eyes. Often there are no obvious signs or symptoms of these eye problems in there early stages. Regular screening is often the only way to detect early changes to your eye.
An eye check is recommended upon being diagnosed with diabetes and then every two years. Some people may require more frequent eye checks in certain situations – talk to your GP to establish what is right for you. Eye checks are completed by an optometrist or eye specialist (ophthalmologist).
Eye problems relating to diabetes can be classed as short term and long-term problems. For those of you who have ever been told you have high blood glucose levels, you may have noticed a change to your vision temporarily? This short term problem can be due to excess fluid being drawn into the lens of the eye as a result of high blood glucose levels. This fluid causes the lens to swell and change shape, resulting in blurred vision. As our blood glucose levels return to target range, the lens will return to its normal shape and vision should return to normal. As this change in vision is temporary, we recommend waiting a few days until your blood glucose levels return to target range before thinking about changing your spectacle prescription.
Increased blood glucose levels over a long period of time can also increase our risk of developing other long-term eye problems. Some of the most common long-term eye problems include diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts.
When blood glucose levels are high over a long period, damage to blood vessels can occur. Small blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye are susceptible to this damage. To try and rectify the situation, our body tries to grow new vessels to make up for the damaged ones. The only problem is, these new vessels are small and weak which makes them easy to rupture, causing bleeding to the back of the eye. If detected early, diabetic retinopathy can be treated very effectively and loss of vision can be prevented.
This condition affects the greater population, however it is more common in those with diabetes. Glaucoma is when there is damage to the optic nerve due to a build-up of pressure inside the eye. Left untreated glaucoma can progress and lead to irreversible eye damage and even complete loss of vision. As with all of these eye problems, early detection with regular eye checks can allow for very effective treatment and prevention of loss of sight.
Cataracts are a common eye condition, usually seen in an older population. People living with diabetes are at greater risk of developing cataracts at a younger age. Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy and reduces our vision. Effective treatment of cataracts occurs with surgical intervention.
Reduce your risk
Your risk of developing these eye conditions can be lowered by keeping your blood glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol close to target ranges. Regular eye checks with your optometrist or ophthalmologist will ensure early detection of eye problems as well as prompt treatment to preserve sight.
Take a good look at your eye health today!
Marian is a Diabetes Educator and an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at Diabetes WA.