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The Link Between Diabetes and Retinal Health: Managing Diabetic Retinopathy

Glucose is the body’s main source of energy. When glucose, blood sugar, gets too high, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or use the insulin it produces effectively. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood glucose which is essentially how the body turns food into energy. This chronic health condition is known as diabetes. A complication of diabetes is the effect on the eyes. Poorly controlled blood sugar is a risk factor that can cause damage to the blood vessels of the retina which may lead to vision loss or blindness.

Diabetes is a direct cause of diabetic retinopathy, so managing this condition is a key to vision health. Anyone who has diabetes, which includes gestational diabetes, type 1 diabetes, and type 2 diabetes, may develop diabetic retinopathy. Additional risk factors include pregnancy, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and uncontrolled blood sugar. The longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy. If you have diabetes, it is important to get a comprehensive, dilated eye exam at least once per year. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when high blood sugar damages blood vessels in the retina, the light sensitive layer at the back of the eye. Damaged blood vessels can swell and leak, cutting off blood flow or causing blurred vision. Abnormal blood vessels can grow causing further vision distortion problems. The swelling to the macula, the part of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision, causes macular edema, the most common cause of blindness in people with diabetic retinopathy. Nearly half of all people with diabetic retinopathy will develop macular edema.

In the advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy, symptoms include blurred vision, floaters, difficulty seeing colors, dark or empty areas of vision and vision loss. Treatment can begin before sight is affected if the condition is caught in its early stages. Options to prevent vision loss include laser therapy, VEGF inhibitors, corticosteroid injections and more. Part of managing diabetic retinopathy is lowering risk by avoiding smoking, controlling blood sugar, exercising regularly, having annual eye exams, maintaining blood pressure within a healthy range and taking medications as prescribed and necessary.

Dr. Matthew Cole can create a treatment plan to proactively control the link between diabetes and retinal health by managing diabetic retinopathy, If you are diabetic, don’t wait until you have eye problems to contact us. Schedule an appointment today.