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Diabetes – Complications with Sugar!

This is National Diabetes and Diabetes Eye Disease awareness month.  Each November we reinvigorate our focus to help you focus better. Nine percent (9%) of Tennesseans are reported to have diabetes.  In some areas of the country that number exceeds 10% to 12%.  It is an epidemic that has only been rising overtime in America and other countries

We can debate the causes (poor diet, lack of exercise, increased high fructose corn syrup, etc.).  The reality remains that we must diagnose, treat, and protect patients from diabetic problems

There is a good news/bad news situation when it comes to diabetic eye disease. The good news is most diabetic eye problems do not cause pain. None of us like pain. However, when you have a disorder that is asymptomatic (none to few symptoms) it is especially dangerous. It is dangerous because patients do not report any particular problems or symptoms, even blurred vision in many cases. This leads to many patients with diabetic eye disease being treated at a later point than they need or when we would like.  That’s the bad news.

Let’s talk facts.  Diabetes is the number one cause of new cases of blindness among the working population in the United States and has remained that way for many years. The number one cause for loss of vision and diabetes is due to a fluid buildup in the central part of the retina called the macula. This fluid buildup disrupts vision in mild to moderate levels but is often not as perceived by the patients. For that reason, we use good high-quality equipment, doctor knowledge, and advanced technology to evaluate the patient’s retina and macula.

80% of vision loss and diabetes is caused by this fluid buildup.  The best way to imagine this is noting how you see when you are under water in a swimming pool.  It is not as clear as when you are above the water level so ultimately that type of blurry, foggy, watery vision is what we’re trying to prevent by diagnosing diabetic eye macular edema (fluid).  In some cases, the fluid buildup creates a signal to the brain that it needs to send more blood vessels and oxygen to the retina.  While this seems like a good idea, ultimately these new blood vessels are very brittle and breakable.  They also have an elasticity to them, so they stick to other parts of the inner eye.  These new blood vessels (called neovascularization) can lead to severe loss of vision due to large hemorrhages or retinal detachment. Each of these can be devastating complications that if left untreated, can lead to blindness.  Even when treated, many people do not return to their normal pre-event vision level and therefore suffer from vision decreases.

In general, diabetes can affect many areas of the eye from the cornea (dry eyes) lens (cataracts), optic nerves (glaucoma)  yet is especially known for its vascular complications due to leakage and new blood vessel formations at the macula or on the retina.  The best way to prevent diabetic complications are the following:

1. Make sure you are seeing your general physician and understand any risk factors you might have for developing diabetes.2. Discuss with your physician the right diet – typically low sugar or carbohydrate to minimize the development of diabetes over time.3. Have your eyes checked annually – even if you don’t have any symptoms of changes in vision.

Our mission is to protect, correct and enhance eye health and vision. Diabetes poses a significant threat to our patients and those in the United States due to complications on the retina. Your annual eye health and vision exam is a high value, low hassle way to provide you more peace of mind and protect your vision for life.