Diabetes, a disease characterized by high blood sugar levels, affected some 34.2 million Americans — 10.5% of the population — in 2018. About 90-95% of cases in adults were Type 2, often caused by a poor diet, excess weight, and a sedentary lifestyle, making it the most preventable form.
At Omphroy Eye Care, experienced ophthalmologist Luis C. Omphroy, MD, provides comprehensive eye exams for diabetics at his Aiea, Hawaii office.
These exams focus on preventing known eye complications from high blood sugar and can help save your sight. If you have diabetes, or if you’re at risk for developing it, here’s why you should take extra care of your eyes, including getting routine diabetic exams.
The shape of the eye
To understand how and why diabetes affects your vision, it helps to know something about the eye from front to back. To do that, let’s follow the path light takes.
Light first hits the eye’s surface, which is covered with a membrane that’s both clear and curved. The clear area allows the light through. The curved area (cornea) focuses the light and protects the eye from pathogens and environmental debris.
The focused light next moves through the anterior chamber, a space filled with the fluid aqueous humor; then it goes through the pupil, and then through a clear lens that refines the focus. Finally, it travels through the vitreous, another fluid-filled chamber, striking the retinal tissue at the back of the eye.
The retina converts the focused light into electrical signals, which it sends to the brain through the optic nerve behind it. Your brain decodes the signals and produces the image you see.
The center of the retina, which is about 2% of the entire tissue, is called the macula. It’s nourished by blood vessels in and behind the retina and registers your clear, central vision.
What is a diabetic eye exam?
When you come in for a diabetic eye exam, Dr. Omphroy evaluates both your vision and your eye health, just as with a regular comprehensive exam. But he pays special attention to the areas of the eye that diabetes typically damages.
The exam includes microscopic examination of the retina with a Haag-Streit slit lamp, retinal and optic nerve evaluation using a Maestro optical coherence tomography (OCT) machine, combined with other tests that examine the nerves, blood vessels, and other structures inside your eyes.
The detailed results of these tests allow Dr. Omphroy to diagnose problems long before you develop observable symptoms. That leads to early intervention, which can save your sight, and allows you to adjust your diabetes regimen, as necessary, to promote eye health.
Some common diabetic eye health problems
High blood sugar levels affect all aspects of your body, and they can lead to eye problems ranging from blurry vision to total blindness. That’s why it’s so important to get your eyes checked regularly by a professional. Some of the major problems affecting the eyes include:
Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR)
Diabetic retinopathy is a major cause of blindness that affects more than one in four American adults living with diabetes.
In the early stages of NPDR, blood vessels can weaken, bulging into the retina or leaking blood into the tissue. As a result, lipids (fats) can deposit on the retina. In the late stages of NPDR, the macula can swell (macular edema), leading to blurred vision.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR)
As retinopathy progresses, some blood vessels seal themselves off, preventing oxygen and other nutrients from reaching the macula.
The result is that new vessels proliferate on the retina’s surface, causing anything from visual floaters, which are not inherently harmful, to scar tissue buildup and/or a detached retina, which can rob you of sight.
Glaucoma is a collection of eye conditions that damages the optic nerve and prevents it from sending information to the brain, resulting in vision loss. High blood sugar levels interfere with the eye’s ability to drain properly. The increased pressure inside your eye then leads to nerve damage.
Many forms of glaucoma have no warning signs until they reach an advanced stage, and once you lose any part of your vision, you can’t get it back. That’s another reason why regular diabetic eye exams are so important.
Cataracts occur when the lens in the eye clouds over with debris. They’re a very common problem, especially as you get older, but diabetics often develop them earlier, and they get worse faster.
If you have diabetes and haven’t had your eye health checked recently, it’s time to come into Omphroy Eye Care for a diabetic evaluation. Give us a call at 808-491-6513 to set up an appointment.