Diabetes mellitus is an endocrine disease in which the cells in the body do not take up sugar properly. This results in high blood sugar levels which cause damage to the blood vessels over time. The effects of this condition are widespread because all of the small vessels in the body are affected, including those of the heart, kidneys, and retina.
Optometrists are very active in the care of patients with diabetes because elevated blood sugar levels have effects on the eyes and vision. The eye is the only place in the body where blood vessels can be viewed directly: there are small blood vessels that lie on top of the retina. When blood vessels are damaged by chronic high blood sugar, blood and fluid leak into the retina. This condition is called diabetic retinopathy. In the early stages, the patient may be completely asymptomatic, and the condition can be controlled and reversed with improved blood sugar control, such as with diet, exercise, and medication. However if the blood sugar level is not controlled and the condition continues to worsen, it can lead to irreversible and permanent vision loss.
For that reason, early detection of retinal disease is very important. Patients with diabetes are advised to have a comprehensive eye exam with dilated retinal evaluation once every year. We also recommend digital retinal photographs to monitor the back of the eyes with precision and detail.
Did you know? Those with uncontrolled diabetes may become more nearsighted or farsighted as their blood sugar levels fluctuate, because the properties of the lens inside their eyes also change.